When I was young, I dreamed of one day hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT). My father's family were from a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. On most visits to the area, we would go for at least one hike (at my insistence), whether it be on the many acres of family property or the established trails in Pisgah National Forest, including some sections of the AT.
My great-grandfather lived about twelve miles south of where the AT crossed Interstate 26, near the NC/TN border. My grandfather helped to build part of the trail and structures during his time in the Civilian Conservation Corps. I suppose you could say that the AT has always held a special place in my heart, although a through-hike has never seemed like a realistic endeavor for me.
Little did I know around the same time I was trodding over hill and dale and scampering along the trails as a young girl of 9 or 10, another trail was just beginning. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) is a long distance trail for hiking and backpacking. When complete, it will run almost 1,200 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains in the west to the Outer Banks in the east. At this time, 680 miles of the route are on trail with more sections in the works. At this time, backroads and an optional paddle route connect the finished sections, allowing hikers to traverse the state in its entirety. If you choose to begin your trek in the west, heading east, you'll begin at the observation tower on Clingman's Dome. It is here that the MST runs perpendicular to the AT. It also happens to be the highest point on both the AT and the MST at 6,643 feet.
This weekend, we celebrate the 41st birthday of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, North Carolina's state hiking trail! Between Friday, Sept. 7, and Sunday, Sept. 9, join people from across the state and beyond by walking, cycling, hiking, running, or paddling part of this great trail. Help accumulate a huge number of miles walking on the MST in celebration of its birthday. Once done, visit mountainstoseatrail.org/birthdayhike and log your miles.
If you're near Greensboro, you are a short drive from 18 miles of MST along the city’s watershed lakes. From the trailhead parking lot off Strawberry Road in Summerfield pick up the Atlantic Yadkin Greenway (AYG) portion of the MST and take the pedestrian bridge across Lake Brandt. At Bur-Mil Park pick up the 4.3-mile Owl’s Roost Trail along the wooded south shore of the lake. (Caution: you’ll be sharing this section of the MST with mountain bikers.) Owl’s Roost loops back to the AYG where you cross another bridge and then pick up the Nat Greene Trail and work your way to end at the Lake Brandt Marina.
Of course, you may keep on going another 11 miles along the lake if you feel up to it, or perhaps you'll just keep walking until you see the ocean. Maybe this will be the beginning of your section hike of the MST. (BTW The Greensboro area trails are part of Section 8 of the MST). However you choose to celebrate the MST's 41st birthday, we hope you have fun and stay safe. (Remember insect repellent, sunscreen, hydration, and supportive shoes.)