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Trail News from the Mountains to the Sea October 2020
Thanks to a Special Trail
Heading into a week of thankfulness, our Board President Millie Chalk shares some thoughts:

"2020 has broadened my perspective on the MST. It’s not just a place of natural beauty; it’s also a place of escape and safety, a place for friends and family to come together outdoors when familiar spots are off limits. More people have been on the MST this year than ever before. The MST has been a gift to so many.

The increased trail use brings a call to action for all of us. There is more wear and tear on the trail, and Friends’ trail crews are working to maintain those miles. We are eager to move more of the route off road and on to footpaths, and Friends’ staff and volunteers make that a priority.

This is a powerful and connected community. Because of you, the MST provides respite and joy to anyone faced with individual challenges. Please look for ways to support the MST: take a friend for a hike, give a year-end gift, tell your elected officials how important the MST and trails are to you. I look forward to brighter days and hope to meet you on the MST."

New Stairs and Boardwalk Installed along the Haw River
A team of ten volunteers made significant improvements to a popular section of the MST in Segment 9 in October by replacing a set of stairs and a walkway that run adjacent to the Haw River. Much of the funding was provided by a grant from REI Greensboro, with the balance provided by the City of Burlington.
“At REI we see the Mountains-to-Sea Trail as unique trail and resource for all,” said REI Greensboro store manager Ron Pinks. “Connecting the mountains to the sea is an exceptional challenge and we hope to inspire others to get outside and enjoy all that North Carolina has to offer following Leave No Trace ethics.”

The step and boardwalk project was complex and challenging. Read about the planning process and build days, here.
Elizabeth Hipps joins Friends' staff as
Operations Manager

We’re thrilled to announce the addition of Elizabeth Hipps as our new operations manager. She will be handling accounting and financial reporting, preparing grant reports, overseeing donor records and membership renewals, and lots of other behind the scenes “stuff." Elizabeth joins Friends after a short hiatus from the corporate world to focus on her textile art. Before that she was the Senior Director of Operations at New Kind, for ten years. Born and raised in Waynesville, Elizabeth attended N.C. State University, earning a Bachelor of Environmental Design. She also earned an MBA from Meredith College. More importantly, she appreciates a good beer, preferring a stout to an IPA. Welcome her at
Beautiful Day of Trail and Community Building at Harmony Hall in Bladen County
On Saturday, November 7th, eight Friends volunteers joined a community workday hosted by Keep Bladen Beautiful and the Elizabethtown-White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce at Harmony Hall in Bladen County (Segment 13 of the MST). This historic property was the Revolutionary War-era home of Colonel James Richardson on the Cape Fear River.

Harmony Hall has been a welcome refuge for thru-hikers who are allowed to camp on the grounds. It is owned by a local non-profit and serves as an educational, recreational, and event space for the community. Unfortunately, they have been struggling to maintain the structures and grounds, especially after recent hurricanes.

For more photos and a wrap up of the workday, read on here.
Update on Sunday Hunting on N.C. Game Lands
After an extensive and collaborative two-year process, the rule-making body of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is moving forward to allow Sunday hunting on select public lands in North Carolina. The recommendation by WRC is to open 55 of the 92 game lands to hunters on Sunday. After a vote in February 2021, the new rules are expected to go into effect in August.

The game lands to open to Sunday hunting include all four of North Carolina’s National Forests – including areas where the MST crosses the Nantahala, Pisgah and Croatan National Forests. This decision was made by the U.S. Forest Service after consultation with the WRC.

No other game land crossed by the MST will open to Sunday hunting. This list includes Falls Lake, Suggs Mill Pond, Bladen Lake State Forest, Whitehall Plantation, Holly Shelter, and Stones Creek.

Friends’ Executive Director Kate Dixon says “I was impressed with WRC’s analysis of user needs and impacts on wildlife, and I appreciate the consideration they gave to the MST. I was surprised that the U.S. Forest Service decided to open all N.C. national forests to Sunday hunting, but I have not heard about its decision-making process.”

For more, read a Carolina Public Press article here.
Duke Energy Foundation Makes Grant for Trail Development Plan around Belews Lake
Duke Energy Foundation has awarded Friends a $30,000 grant to develop a plan for the trail in the area around Belews Lake north of Greensboro (Segment 8.) In this part of the state, the trail is on road for a continuous 31 miles, so both locals and long-distance hikers will appreciate places to walk in nature.
"We’re pleased to support projects that protect and expand access to North Carolina’s natural treasures, especially as more people are engaged in outdoor activities," said Stephen De May, Duke Energy’s North Carolina president. Millie Chalk, board chair of Friends and Government and Community Relations Manager at Duke Energy Progress, helped identify the opportunity for this additional funding.

Staffer Ben Jones, summer intern Sarah Richardson, and volunteer naturalist Julie Moore have developed preliminary proposals for routes through the area. We will be working with Duke, the Piedmont Land Conservancy and other local stakeholders to evaluate the potential routes. This is an exciting opportunity to shape the future of one of the piedmont's precious natural areas.
Amazing Feats on the MST
While the trail has been providing joy, solace and space to us regular folks, some athletically blessed hikers have been setting remarkable records.

In September, Tara Dower set the Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the MST since Diane Van Deren set a record in 2012 when the trail was 200 miles shorter. Tara completed the 1175 miles in 29 days, 8 hours, 48 minutes. Tara's Instagram page is packed with images from her journey. Most impressive and huge congrats to Tara!
Over Labor Day weekend, Abi Winegarden completed all three of the 43-kilometer hikes that were part of the 43rd Birthday Hike Celebration! This was a feat not just of hiking endurance but of logistical strategy. With the support of a driver and camping partner, Abi hiked on Saturday in Segment 5, Sunday in Segment 10, and finished by dipping her feet in the Atlantic on Monday in Segment 15. Abi was also a fundraising champ: raising $600+ for the MST.
Segment 5
Segment 10
Segment 15
On September 27th, 2020 MST completer Adam Collins hiked 43 miles in Segment 5, from Beacon Heights to Highway 421, raising over $560 for the MST. Adam made a last-minute decision to take on this hike and fundraiser, and overachieved on the fundraising. We're not sure he would say the same about the hike.

Moving on to October 21st, Nathan Toben set an FKT on Segment 10 of 12 hours, 23 minutes and 24 seconds. This 77.6-mile section runs from Pleasant Green Road in Durham to the Falls Lake Dam on the east side of Raleigh. Nathan shared, “That section below West Point is a prime example of how a symbol of human goodness and escape-into-nature can often be found right in our backyards, if only we have the eyes to look.”
And lastly, our own board member Mark Rostan completed “Grandell” – Grandfather Mountain to Mount Mitchell over November 7th and 8th. Mark and Brian Zimmer, a geology professor at Appalachian State, made this 101-mile run/hike in 37 hours, 16 minutes, 46 secondsHis recap is fascinating.

While we celebrate these amazing accomplishments, we also cheer the slow, the steady and the curious. The MST is for all of us, whatever speed we hike. We’d love to hear what makes the trail special to you. Email us anytime with tales from the trail.
2021 unGathering of Friends
Watch for a Save the Date email soon

It looks virtually certain that in-person groups will be limited throughout 2021, so we've decided to hold a a virtual Gathering, or unGathering instead! The MST community is so very special, and we’re dreaming up a great program to foster and continue that sense of togetherness.

Planning for the unGathering is underway. Please share any ideas or special virtual planning talents you may have by emailing Betsy Brown. Registration and dates will be announced soon, but it's safe to plan for late March to early April. We hope to "see" old friends and many new ones.
“Jester” Section Hiker Podcast Profiling the MST
Are you feeling glum that the final episode of the Away Message MST podcast series is over? Never fear, Julie “Jester” Gayheart has picked up the proverbial podcast hiking stick. She’s making podcasts about all the day hikes in the new MST guide.

The podcasts are a part of the Hiking Radio Network, and you can find them here. Calling the series her “MST Highlights Tour,” Julie is sharing about her MST adventures and interviewing folks she meets along the way.

Jester, an AT completer, had been mildly curious about the MST for years. And then Covid happened. Julie was impressed by Friends’ clear guidance about trail use and messages of hope when we were all under stay-at-home orders. Her interest peaked then. In her words, she said “How could I not be involved?”
Julie’s excited to use the 40 day hikes to learn much more about North Carolina. She says: "The MST has better “stuff" than the AT. North Carolina is so unique. We have Mt. Mitchell, we have Linville Gorge. [Editor’s note – she’s hiking west to east, so she’ll be swooning over more eastern areas soon.] Initially, I didn’t want to hike the MST because of the connecting road sections, but I’ve really changed my thinking on that. Now it’s so interesting to me to learn the history and meet the people along the way.”
Grace Iovine Awarded Volunteer of the Year by Army Corps of Engineers
Grace Iovine has been recognized as Volunteer of the Year by the Army Corps of Engineers at Falls Lake. Grace has been volunteering on the MST for over 10 years and is recognized for her outstanding service and devotion. She oversees the section of trail from Barton Creek Boat Ramp to Highway 98 in Segment 10 in addition to attending nearly every group workday, Grace also travels to the Coastal Crescent, contributing her expertise along the new sections of MST being built there. Grace is an experienced hike leader and in her “spare time” volunteers with Saving Grace Animals for Adoption. Congratulations Grace!
Make a List, Check it Twice
Holiday shopping for the hikers on your list or, even better, making suggestions to those shopping for you? We’ve added a few new things to the MST store for the holidays including a long-sleeved shirt.
Or give someone a copy of the new Great Day Hikes guide, with a donation to the Friends in the person's honor, and we'll mail the guide along with a personalized note card and sticker telling them of your gift.
The MST candle has been a strong scented seller, and folks are popping their lids for the new “dad” hat.
If you plan to shop on Amazon, we invite you to log in through AmazonSmile and choose Friends as your charity. Simply shop at and Amazon will donate half a percent back to us at no cost to you.

Great Day Hikes Virtual Event; 40 Hikes Profiles
Great Day Hikes on North Carolina's MST editor and Friends’ trail resource manager Jim Grode will appear on December 15th at 6:30 pm with board member Marcia Bromberg in an event co-hosted by the North Carolina Arboretum and Asheville’s Malaprop’s Bookstore. To attend, register on the Arboretum’s website.

Many folks are tackling the 40 Hike Challenge – hiking all 40 hikes in the new day hike guide, and they’ve been sending in reports from their adventures. We’ve been sharing these on social media and now have a permanent home for them on the 40 Hike Challenge page on the website.  

As a reminder, Great Day Hikes is available at most independent bookstores, outdoor outfitters and in our store. Members in good standing, don’t forget that you get 10% off in our store. If you can’t remember the code, drop us a line and we’ll remind you. 
Massive Oak Cleared by Volunteers
Mike Williams submitted this report and photos from a September workday when volunteers masterfully removed an oak, the biggest blowdown they had ever seen on their section:
A crew of five volunteers from the Carolina Mountain Club cleared a massive red oak tree that had toppled and was blocking the Mount Mitchell Trail, an MST section that is one of the most heavily-used hiking paths in the Black Mountains. The tree measured 48 inches in diameter and was well over 100 feet tall. A rough count of its rings showed it to be 160 years old, meaning it was an acorn at the start of the Civil War in 1860. (Mike Williams mans the measuring tape.)
“A tree that large is a real challenge, but that trail gets 30 to 40 hikers a day during the summer,” said Monday Trail Crew Leader John Whitehouse, who led the crew and is seen here. “We would never have attempted the job had the tree been hung up or leaning. Safety was our top priority.”
The big oak came down in mid-August and completely blocked the trail, which leads from the Black Mountain Campground to the summit of Mt. Mitchell. Hikers had to scramble up and down a steep, muddy slope to get around the tree’s root ball. (Volunteers Duke Rose, Mike Williams and John Whitehouse)
Assisting Whitehouse were John Beaudet, Duke Rose, Bob Widman and Mike Williams. Beaudet, Rose and Williams, like Whitehouse, are certified sawyers who have completed a two-day U.S. Forest Service safety course that is required of all volunteers who use chainsaws. (Volunteers Duke Rose and John Beaudet)
“Most of the downed trees we find blocking the trails are a foot or less in diameter,” Whitehouse said. “This tree was the biggest one any of us have ever dealt with.”

If you find the next biggest blowdown or trail damage anywhere on the trail, at any time, please report it to our trail resource manager, Jim Grode, or the local task force leader for that section of trail. 
Section Hiker Taylor Keith Invites his Company to Support the MST
Welcome TELICS, a Right of Way Acquisition and Utility Coordination Consulting Firm, as a new corporate donor at the “Weekend Hike” level. Friends’ member and volunteer Taylor Keith made the gift happen.

Taylor oversees the Right of Way Acquisition, Appraisal, and Relocation division at Telics. His expertise and frequent trips all over North Carolina give him great opportunities to look for land and easements for the trail. Taylor is also excited by the economic growth that the trail can bring to small towns and hopes to help communities secure funding for trail development.

Taylor did not learn of the trail from his days on the job, however. His father, Norman Keith, first introduced him to the MST, and has inspired his goal of section-hiking the entire MST.

For the rest of the story, head over to our website. To see who else supports the trail, click here. And please reach out if you know of a company that might be interested in becoming a corporate sponsor.
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.
Looking forward to seeing you on the MST again. Until then, stay safe and Happy Thanksgiving! 

Betsy Brown            
Outreach Manager, Friends of the MST
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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 •