By Chuck Millsaps
My emancipation from pavement arrived on the back of 1968 Schwinn Sting-Ray bicycle. That banana seat bomber sparked a wildfire of adventure further kindled by folks to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. I thank my parents who sent me down the driveway, spoke cards and all, towards a wilderness with a smell all its own. I also thank the supervisor of Charlotte’s Sugar Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant who looked the other way as I and my friends flew down those poison ivy’d trails. Finally, my thanks goes out to the mysterious trail-builder who blazed access to that wilderness of kudzu, cicadas and tire swings.*
As youngsters we poured energy into play with little regard for access to hiking, paddling, running and biking. Time and space seemed abundant. As for the trail-builder, I assumed it was the boogey man - that under-the-bed dwelling, night of the living dead trail runner who could appear at any moment and bring it all to a grizzly end. Such fears served to increase our sense of adventure as we escaped the ordinary world to a land of wonder.
Today our fear is less about the boogey man and more about the loss of access. Adventure calls yet the challenge is to find the time and the space. Thankfully folks continue to take up this challenge. Each month hundreds of volunteers from across the state put on their gloves, pick up a shovel and dedicate their time to provide wilderness access along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Think of the MST as the spinal cord to our state’s adventure nervous system which spans from mountains to coast. If you’ve hiked the Smokies, paddled the Nantahala, biked the Parkway, ran Shut-In, swam the Haw or climbed Cape Hatteras Lighthouse then you’ve enjoyed the MST. And rest assured the boogey man had nothing to do with blazing these trails. Instead, hundreds of Friends of the Mountains To Sea Trail volunteers build and maintain trail across the state.
During October we see this most clearly as we celebrate Mountains-to-Sea Trail Month. The month is chockfull of activities dedicated to this living monument that runs nearly 1,000 miles across North Carolina from Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks. A calendar of events can be found at www.ncmst.org along with numerous opportunities to lend a hand and help build something that will allow others to experience the beauty of North Carolina.
So the next time you experience that dew-soaked-spider web whack in the face of a trail run or the pounding headwind as you cycle north from Cape’s Whalebone Junction remember the volunteers who pioneered the access and made the outing possible. Share your experience with others and consider becoming a Friend of the Mountains-To-Sea Trail. It’s one of the best ways to inoculate your future adventure from the perils of the boogey man.
*In 2008 the Sugar Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant received the Gold Award from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. Mecklenburg County’s Greenway Master Plan includes an extensive recreational corridor for this area.
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Chuck Millsaps works at Great Outdoor Provision Co., a NC based outfitter dedicated to providing the best in outdoor clothing and equipment for wilderness access. http://www.greatoutdoorprovision.com.