03/03/14 — Trail troubles

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Trail troubles

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on March 3, 2014 1:46 PM

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Adam Howard of Newton Grove is seen hiking along the Spanish Moss Trail last week at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park near Seven Springs. The trail is one of several that criss-cross the park. Some are partially under water due to the rising river, but hikers can still enjoy the woods by using alternative routes.

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Markers like the one featured above tell hikers which direction to follow.

If you are thinking about heading out to Cliffs of the Neuse to do some hiking, you may have to do a little rerouting. Some of the steps and the wooden bridge leading to the Bird and Galax trails are partially under water.

That's because of the recent snows and heavy rains that have pushed the Neuse River level to near flood stage, park ranger Autumn Kahl said.

"The Neuse River is up really high because of all the runoff of the snow melt and rains we just had," she said. "And the Neuse River starts out at Falls Lake and is fed from the reservoir there. When the reservoir starts getting full, they let out some of the water, which makes its way down the Neuse River to the Cliffs."

Sometimes the Spanish Moss Trail floods as well, but it's all right for now, Ms. Kahl said. The Neuse River has overflowed its banks and has gone about 50 yards into the wooded area that's normally dry.

"The bridge and trails have flooded more frequently in the past year," Ms. Kahl said. "In the summer time, it's not bad because we're in dry, drought conditions."

But hikers can still access the Bird and Galax trails, as well as all of the park's trails, by other routes.

You can get to them from the lake side by crossing an aluminum bridge on the back side of the lake. After crossing the bridge, you go to the left for short trail connecting to the Bird and Galax trails.

If you go right, however, you will be on a new trail that the park has laid out with red flags. It will go around the lake, starting at the park visitor center.

"It's being contracted out so we're going to have an outside company come in and put the trail in," Ms. Kahl said.

The trail will be completed by fall.

"It will be a dirt trail and a sustainable trail, which means it's going to go with the contour of the land," she said. "So you shouldn't be doing a lot of up and down hills. It will be going around hills. Then when some areas flood out, we will still have areas that you can walk. And it makes more of the park accessible."

The new trail will be two miles long.

The park recently put in another trail, the Long Leaf Trail. It starts across from the visitor center, goes to the group camp site road then connects to the Spanish Moss Trail.

"So you can come up, take the high side of the Spanish Moss Trail, and that's another two-mile circuit," Ms. Kahl said. "So between that trail and the trail we're waiting on to be laid out, we've added about four more miles of trails."

The Bird and Galax trails make for easier hiking. The Spanish Moss Trail is of moderate difficulty because it has a lot of wooden stairs along the way. The Long Leaf Trail is not very strenuous.

People hike for various reasons.

"They hike because of the scenery," Ms. Kahl said. "They hike because of all the animals you can see. It's a nice place to relax, to clear your mind from your busy workweek."

The area is protected, she reminded.

"If you're out by yourself, the trails are safe as well. We do have rangers patrolling the trails regularly. We keep our eye out for any situations that might arise."

She suggested that those walking the trails alone take a cell phone with them. You can stop by the visitor center and get the numbers for the office and the on call ranger in case you have an emergency while on the trails. You can also pick up a map of the trails.

Pets are welcome on any of the trails, as long as they are on a leash. And you should carry a bag with you to pick up their waste. Trash cans are located in several areas throughout the park.

While hiking, you might notice that some areas of the Cliffs look like they've been through a fire. That's because the Cliffs has conducted two controlled burns this year.

"The reason we're doing these controlled burns is to cut out the underbrush competition for the native long leaf pine," Ms. Kahl said. "It does a lot better when it doesn't have all that ground cover there."

And the controlled burns help lower the risk of an accidental fire getting out of control because there's less underbrush to catch fire.

To help the native trees and plants flourish, the park rangers are asking the public to help them remove invasive species of plants March 15 from 1 to 4 p.m. Ranger Candace Rose will conduct the removal.

"Invasive species don't have any competitors here so they flourish and will take over and they can choke out the native plants," Ms. Kahl said. "Then we'll have a completely unnatural area if we let them go.

"Once the invasive plant is removed, it will be gone for good. But others can invade in the future. People carry the seeds and stuff on them when they go from place to place and that's usually how the invasive species get into the park."

For more information about which trails are flooded or to help with the invasive species removal, call Cliffs of the Neuse State Park at 919-778-6234.