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Trail News from the Mountains to the Sea February 2022
Hello from Friends' new Executive Director,
Brent Laurenz
I’m thrilled to be the new Executive Director of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. I’ve spent virtually my entire career working with nonprofit organizations and I’ve been an avid hiker my entire adult life too, so this job is truly the perfect marriage of my professional experience and personal passion. I’m excited about the opportunities ahead.

I also know that I have big shoes to fill with Kate’s departure. If you’ve enjoyed the MST as I have over the past 15 years, then, whether you know it or not, you’ve experienced the result of Kate’s great work. Check out our website to learn more about some of her accomplishments during her time with Friends of the MST and, if you can, I’d encourage you to make a donation to the Kate Dixon Legacy Campaign to help us keep up the momentum and build on all the great progress Kate leaves behind.

I hope to meet many of you at the Gathering of Friends in April, but if not then I hope to see you out on the trail soon.

On Kate's last "day in the office," a huge crowd gathered in Clayton for a joint hike/bike to celebrate trails in Johnston County. The event was organized by Friends of Johnston County Parks, East Coast Greenway, Friends of the MST and other partners. Pictured here are Brent, Kate and hike leader Johnny Massey (Photo by Bill Boyarsky)
And a farewell from outgoing Executive Director, Kate Dixon
Dear MST Friends,

Thursday, February 17 was my last day as Executive Director of this wonderful organization. Retiring is bittersweet as I am inspired by the trail itself and by all the good people I’ve worked with over the last 14+ years. I am so thankful that the early Board of Directors took a chance on me. I’ve learned so much, had great fun, and I’m proud of what we have accomplished together.

The last five weeks have been a whirlwind. On January 11, just one week before my successor Brent Laurenz started work, we learned that $5 million of the $29 million of new state trail funding will be focused specifically on the MST – the longest of North Carolina’s 12 official state trails. So Brent and I and other Board and staff members jumped right in to begin figuring out how to use that money wisely and well to build and improve the MST all over the state.

This work together has given me a great opportunity to get to know Brent. I admire his good sense, his work ethic, his love of trails, and his obvious enjoyment of the MST “tramily.” I know the MST and Friends are in good hands as I move on to new adventures.

Although I am retiring, I absolutely plan to attend the Gathering of Friends at Lake Junaluska on April 7-10. If you haven’t registered yet, I encourage you to do so now, because I hope to see you there!


(Above: Kate and her husband Dan Wilkinson during 2021 NC Trail Days in Elkin NC, courtesy of Julie "Jester" Gayheart.)
Gathering of Friends 2022:
Full schedule announced; Registration continues
Come welcome Brent and celebrate the trail's 45th anniversary at the Gathering of Friends at Lake Junaluska, April 7-10, 2022! Registration is open, and is filling up fast. The full schedule is now available in calendar format or a downloadable printable version - we are so excited to see you all in person again.

The four-day event features many stellar guests, guided hikes, excursions, our annual membership meeting and, for the first time, a full day of trail building workshops. Once you have registered for the Gathering, you will receive a link to register for the excursions. Those who are already registered should have received an email from us sharing how to sign up.

Here's an overview of the long weekend:

  • Thursday, April 7th – All day trail building workshops hosted by Carolina Mountain Club on the MST near Lake Junaluska - Beginner through expert level trail workers are welcome; Guided hikes in Segment 3 in the afternoon; Meet up for dinner, drinks and music by Sugah and thuh Cubes (featuring Friends' board member Mike Parker) at Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville
  • Friday, April 8th – Dozens of hikes and excursions throughout the area starting at 7:30 and continuing through the day; Opening night reception and dinner (sponsored by Visit NC Smokies) at Lake Junaluska featuring Howard Lee whose speech in 1977 got the MST rolling, remarks from Reid Wilson, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, a conversation with Director of State Parks Dwayne Patterson, Superintendent of Blue Ridge Parkway Tracy Swartout, forest supervisor for the National Forests in North Carolina James Melonas and others! We'll hear from Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, Richard Sneed, and learn from the Warriors of AniKituhwa, cultural ambassadors also from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, who will share their culture, history and arts through dance and performances. Thanks to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee for supporting this event!
  • Saturday, April 9th – Group breakfast and annual meeting for Friends of the MST at Shackford Hall; Group walk around Lake Junaluska after meeting (sponsored by Mast General Store); Late afternoon and evening stroll through downtown Waynesville, following by a concert featuring the music of western NC featuring the Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) on guitars, fiddles and banjos; local award-winning singer songwriter, Richard Hurley, who will provide ballads, original songs and an education about local music; and Whitewater Bluegrass Company performing some of the finest string music you will ever hear!
  • Sunday, April 10th – Guided hikes and excursions

We've set up a special website for reservations with multiple photos of each type of lodging. Just click on "enlarge photo" to see the extra images. The special rates are available for Tuesday, April 5 through Monday, April 11 if you'd like to stay a few days before or after the event. NOTE: The room block will be released on March 17th, so book now to avoid missing the group rate. This map shows the entire property. When we're not hiking or exploring, our events will be held in Shackford Hall, the columned building in the photo below.
Thanks to our tremendous sponsors without whom the Gathering wouldn't be so much fun! We're thrilled that Mast General Store is hosting the group walk around Lake Junaluska on Saturday afternoon. Ryan Robinson, the community relations program manager for Mast, shared, "the goal of the MST is to connect the beautiful views of the mountains to the sandy shores of the coast, but to us at the Mast Store, it is much more than that. It's an avenue to bring people together, a place to discover the beauty in ourselves, and a way to slow down and see our community and our state from a whole different perspective." Ryan also shared this recent snowy shot from the trail near Boone.

Eno is providing a hammock lounge on the lawn in front of Shackford Hall, weather permitting. And Mountain Running Company is hosting a trail run on Saturday morning. Thanks all!
Visit NC Smokies is located in Haywood County, North Carolina and comprised of Maggie Valley, Waynesville, Lake Junaluska, Canton & Clyde. We are best known for our 46 miles of scenic drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway, hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains, and affordable accommodations with spectacular views. 
As a general store, Mast Store offers a variety of goods from fashion to fried chicken cookbooks and toffee to tents. As ambassadors, we share some of our favorite places to hike, enjoy a meal, or catch some live music.
38,000+ Volunteer Hours!
Volunteers working on the MST from Clingmans Dome to Jockey's Ridge set a record this year. Together, hard working volunteers put in over 38,000 documented hours on the MST in 2021. Even though our 2020 hours were lower because of Covid-19 restrictions, this is an unprecedented increase of over 11,000 hours!

Over 1,050 different volunteers worked on the MST this year, with 90 folks giving over 75 hours and 19 giving over 250! Our partner Insect Shield helps us honor all volunteers with over 75 hours by providing permethrin-treated shirts and hats.
In other exciting volunteer news, the National Park Service recently honored MST and CMC volunteer Mel Skiles with the Blue Ridge Parkway Individual Volunteer Award. First getting involved in 2012, Mel now serves weekly as part of the “Thursday Crew” where he maintains the popular stretch of the MST through the Asheville area, contributing to the experiences of thousands of hikers annually. Beyond his work on the trail, Mel is an ambassador for stewardship and has recruited numerous others to take up the mantle of volunteering on the parkway. (photo courtesy of Carolina Mountain Club/Danny Bernstein)

The trail is not possible without the hard work of all our volunteers! Thank you!
Introducing SIX new 2022 board members
The incoming class of 2022 is quite impressive! We anticipate huge contributions to the trail from these Super Six.

Jerry Barker (Raleigh) returns to the Board after previously serving from 2012 to 2017, including as Board President from 2013 to 2015. He led the effort that organized MST in a Day in 2017 and also completed hiking the MST that year. UNC Press plans to publish a book he has written about the MST in 2023.

Bob Dillard (Southport) has been an active MST segment worker and hiker since he first joined Friends in 2018. Over the next few years, he hopes to complete his hike of the entire MST, help shift the MST off highways 17 and 70 in the North River and Cherry Branch areas and increase the membership of Friends of MST in eastern NC.

Julie “Jester” Gayheart (Charlotte) comes to the Board with years of hiking experience and a deep passion for trails. “Jester” has section hiked the Appalachian Trail (completing in 2017 with only 500 miles left for a second completion). She hosts a weekly hiking podcast, aptly named the "Jester" Section Hiker, and discovered her love for the MST by completing the 40 Great Day Hikes and podcasting about her experience.

Larry Humbert (Belmont) moved to NC in 2017 after a lengthy career of nonprofit service in Indiana. Prior to joining the Board, he has been an active volunteer with Friends of the MST helping on the trail in Linville Gorge and Western Guilford County.

Randy Johnson (Banner Elk) joins the board with extensive MST experience, having previously served as the MST Central Blue Ridge task force co-leader and, since 2010, as the task force leader for the MST from Grandfather Mountain to Blowing Rock. He is also the author of Hiking North Carolina, Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway, and other books, including Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon.

Beverly Scarlett (Hillsborough) served as a District Court judge from 2007-2021 and has deep familial ties to the Eno River region along the MST. She is the author of Ribbons of Color: The History of African Americans and People of Color Living Along the Eno River, a collection of first and second-hand stories of those who have long lived in the Eno watershed. Ribbons of Color No 2: The History of People of Color Living Along the Eno River is scheduled to be published this month.

We thank Millie Chalk, Chris Grams, Mark Rostan and Greg Yahn as they rotated off the board at the end of 2021.
Trail Updates - Much good news along the Coastal Crescent section of the MST!
We are close to finalizing an agreement between Friends of the MST, Sampson County, and the NC Plant Conservation Program that will allow for the creation of the first public natural surface trail in Sampson County (Segment 12).

We will soon be breaking ground on a two block section of the MST in downtown Roseboro where we will install brick pavers to create both a pathway and gathering spaces (Segment 12).

We have submitted our final proposal for the bridge over the Jones Lake Drain in Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest to the State Construction Office for review and expect to be given permission to begin construction this Spring (Segment 13).

The Nature Conservancy, with support from Friends of the MST, has submitted an application for the NC Land and Water Fund to acquire land adjacent to Holly Shelter Game Land that would allow for a 5-mile expansion of the MST (Segment 15).

Friends of the MST is partnering with Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership, the Conservation Fund of NC, and the Environmental Defense Fund on a REPI Challenge proposal. This program could provide substantial funding for land acquisition and flood mitigation infrastructure in the greater Goldsboro area, allowing for new trail building opportunities along the Neuse River (Segment 11A-16A).
New in the MST Store
We've added a few new items to the MST store. We are working on a new MST shirt in time for the Gathering too!
The Courage to Lead
In The Courage to Lead, Howard Lee’s autobiography, learn about his early life growing up on a sharecropper's farm in Georgia during segregation. He tells about the hurdles he faced, as well as the triumphs and the people who helped him during his college and Army days and his long and respected career in North Carolina. Written in 2008, The Courage to Lead is an insightful look into Lee’s far-reaching impact on the state, reaching far beyond the MST.
MST Hiker Medal
Commemorate your time on the MST with the newest offering from Hiker Medals. Created by hiker Wim Schalken, these medals are substantial, representing the trail from the mountains to the sea. Wim is also donating a portion of proceeds from MST medals he sells on his own website.
Measures 3.5" in diameter and weighs 5 oz. Matching ribbon included.
Scratch-Off Map
This scratch-off map, produced by Redhot Mapping, is a great way to keep track of your progress along the MST. It’s laminated for durability and features a spreadsheet on the back detailing the sections and providing a space for hike dates and comments. It comes with an ultrafine permanent marker for notes, but you’ll have to provide your own coin to reveal your completed segments.
Size: 12" x 18"
Other Ways to Support the MST
ONE: Become a member. Join online or print and mail your membership form today.

TWO: Buy an MST license plate. For $30 per year, you can show the world your love of the trail and help financially too. $20 of your annual fee will come back to Friends of MST to build, protect, and promote the trail. Order your plate directly from NC DMV.

THREE: If your employer hosts a workplace-giving campaign, look for Friends of MST as a giving option. We are a member of EarthShare NC which promotes workplace giving for conservation and environmental groups. We are a giving option in the North Carolina state employee campaign and in many local government and corporate campaigns too. Friends code numbers are: State employee campaign - 1102; United Way of the Triangle - 60001159.

FOUR: Link your AmazonSmile account. Simply shop at and Amazon will donate half a percent back to us at no cost to you.
See you on the MST. 

Betsy Brown            
Outreach Manager, Friends of the MST
Become a Member and
SAVE 10%
Members save 10% on Friends merchandise available at our online store
Volunteers are the heart of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
We need people with a wide variety of skills and interests to build and care for this beautiful trail.
Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail
3509 Haworth Drive, Suite 210, Raleigh, NC 27609
919.825.0297 •