Happy 40th, Mountains-to-Sea Trail!

Click here for an interactive version of the map

Click here for an interactive version of the map

Click here for an interactive version of the mapTradition holds that a ruby makes a nice 40th anniversary gift. Fortunately, the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail don’t stand on tradition.

Rather than a lone gem stone, the Friends plan to give us a series of gems to celebrate the 40 years since Howard Lee, at the time Secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural Resources and Community Development (now the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources), proposed the trail in 1977. Gems from Asheville uber-hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis to a new package of regional (Mountains, Piedmont, Coastal Plain/Coast) guidebooks to, most significantly for us, a statewide hiking trail that continues to grow.

The MST, if you’re not familiar, is a statewide trail-in-progress that will one day bridge Clingman’s Dome on the Tennessee line with Jockey’s Ridge on the Atlantic, a distance of about 1,200 miles. The MST passes through 37 counties, peaks atop 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell (the highest point east of South Dakota’s Black Hills), bottoms out at sea level along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, passes through 10 state parks, three national forests, four national parks and two national wildlife refuges. To complete the trail requires two ferry rides.

We’re going to write throughout the year about the MST, its anniversary events, its accelerating progress. Today, we’ll start with what every hiker wants to know: where does the trail stand today and where will it be in, say, two years?

First, today. According to Kate Dixon, executive director of the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the pert near all-volunteer group (about 700 volunteers contributed 30,000 hours to the trail in 2015) that’s driving the trail, 680 miles of the trail are complete. The remainder is temporarily situated on mostly country-roads, which explains how 74 hikers have completed the entire trail. Of those 680 miles, about 300 miles are in the mountains, 300 in the Piedmont and about 80 in the coastal plain and coast.


The MST along the east rim of Linville Gorge

Dixon believes another 30 miles of trail could come on line in the next couple of years. Hot spots of activity are:

It may be a while before we can hike 1,175 miles of pure trail. But it won’t be long before we can hike more than 700.