By Joe Miller
Now we come to the Fund Drive portion of the 2012 MST Endurance Run.

Folks, public hiking trails are one of the best bargains around. Precious few tax dollars are spent maintaining and adding to the tens of thousands of miles of hiking trail snaking across this great land. The vast majority of trail is built and maintained by hard-working volunteers who gladly forgo a day of pleasurable hiking to tidy up existing trail and add new path.

But our trails are not entirely free. That’s especially true in the case of a work-in-progress like the Mountains-to-Sea Trail that’s partly on public land, partly on private. The goal of the MST — a goal dating to the 1970s, is a statewide hiking trail linking Clingman’s Dome high in the Smokies on the Tennessee border with Jockey’s Ridge on the lip of the Atlantic Ocean. That’s a trail currently estimated at 935 miles.

As of today, 530 miles of Mountains-to-Sea Trail are complete. Most of those miles are in the mountains, where trail constitutes 314 miles of the MST (leaving 35 miles of road miles to be converted). In the Piedmont, 131 miles of MST have been designated (with 103 miles to go), and along the coast, roughly 60 miles are done (with 23 road miles to convert). The biggest gap is through the coastal plain (from Falls Lake dam to the Cedar Island Ferry), where only 20 miles of trail exist, leaving a whopping 227 miles to go.

It’s that coastal plain stretch that Diane Van Deren, in her quest to hike the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in a record 21 days, enters today. This stretch highlights the driving force behind Van Deren’s MST Endurance Run: to raise awareness and money for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in its quest to attain full-trail status. In all, 405 miles of the MST are on temporary road routes.

Folks, in addition to the goal of getting Van Deren to Jockey’s Ridge next Wednesday is the goal of raising $40,000 for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. As of Thursday, about $25,000 had been raised toward that goal. An impressive amount, but we still have $15,000 to go.

So, you may be wondering, where will my MST Endurance Run donation go? One place it won’t go is toward inflated FMST salaries. The Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail has exactly one paid employee to oversee this massive effort, everyone else donates their time. Last year, a total of 18,432 volunteer hours were logged to advance the MST.

“Our board will decide how to spend it,” FMST Executive Director Kate Dixon says of funds raised through the MST Endurance Run. “We have a lot of important projects going on right now that the money will be very helpful for.” Among those projects:

  • Working with North Carolina State Parks to forge a new trail route in the Coastal Plain. (We’ll expand on this in a day or two.)
  • Pushing for a new route for the trail out of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
  • Establishing campsites on the Blue Ridge Parkway portion of the trail.
  • Acquiring the remaining tracts for the trail on the Eno River that will give us 150 miles of continuous trail from Hillsborough to Clayton.
  • Establishing campsites on Falls Lake and along the emerging Neuse River Trail in Raleigh and Clayton
  • “Better materials to help people hike the trail.” (Full disclosure: I’ve been developing those “better materials” — in the form of detailed hike descriptions, maps and photos — for the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. See an example here.)

So, you’re probably wondering, how can I help make the aforementioned MST projects happen?

The Great Outdoor Provision Co., which is sponsoring the MST Endurance Run along with Van Deren’s sponsor, The North Face, has established several levels of giving. Maybe you’re only an occasional hiker but love the idea of a hiking trail across the great state of North Carolina: you can donate a penny a mile, or $10 (based on a rounding estimate of 1,000 miles of MST). Hike a little more? Then become a member of the Nickel Club by donating 5 cents a mile, or $50. Get a tax refund that exceeded your expectations? What better way to help defray next year’s tax burden than with a tax deductible 10-cent-per-mile ($100) donation to this nonprofit. Join the Golden Boot Club with a 25-cent-per-mile ($250) donation, the Royal Sepulchre Hiking Staff Circle with a 50-cent-per-mile ($500) donation or, donate $1 a mile, or $1,000, and you will  get my services as trail guide/sherpa for a day hike anywhere of your choosing on the MST. (Why on Earth would you want to hike with me? you may well be wondering? Email me at and I’ll make my pitch.)

You can also donate an amount of your choosing. To donate, visit our Donation Page here.

Back to Van Deren and her push toward Jockey’s Ridge.

Wednesday, Van Deren began her last significant stretch of actual trail, entering the Eno River Valley in Orange County. Travel was good until late yesterday afternoon when Van Deren encountered an especially challenging section of MST along Falls Lake.

The Falls Lake section of the MST is one of the premier long urban hiking trails in the United States. With the recent completion of a bridge over Little Lick Creek, the trail runs continuously from Penny’s Bend in Durham County southeast to the Falls Lake dam in Raleigh, a distance of 60 miles. Some of that land is managed by North Carolina State Parks; most of it is managed by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. The WRC sections are managed for wildlife, and occasionally that means going in and doing a controlled burn — basically replicating the wildfires that burned unabated before the European invasion — to create favorable wildlife habitat.

Friday afternoon Van Deren encountered one such burn area that was quickly being replaced by the kind of lush vegetation that makes wildlife happy but that can slow the progress of even the most determined trekker. As expedition coordinator Chuck Millsaps with Great Outdoor Provision Co. explained early this morning:

“We had hoped for more mileage yesterday but ran into a buzzsaw last night along Falls Lake just west of Rolling View. Or, rather, Diane needed a buzzsaw.”

That growth, combined with wet conditions generated by an afternoon downpour made for slower-than expected pace. (Van Deren is slowly recovering from severely blistered feet suffered during wet conditions in the mountains. She’s doing whatever she can to keep her feet dry and on the mend.) The day ended early — for Van Deren — at 9:30 last night.

Van Deren was back on the trail this morning at 6 a.m., with 30 miles of Falls Lake trail to go.