NC state parks will help host national 2013 Outdoor Nation Summit

It’s a simple idea really.on_photo1

If you’re looking for ideas to connect young people with the outdoors, you need to ask the young people. That’s the concept behind Outdoor Nation, which will hold one of three national summits this year at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area and UNC-Chapel Hill. North Carolina’s state parks system is helping to host the gathering of about 200 millennials (we’re told that’s humans ages 16-28). The summit is June 29-30.

It’s a great idea for the “delegates” – young people who attend either as individuals or in groups. All expenses are paid (excepting transportation); there are outdoor activities and opportunities for project grants; and, there’s time to network with outdoor professionals. Each year, Outdoor Nation sponsors three national summits and these are augmented with follow-up gatherings in

successive years. Outdoor Nation is an action program of the Outdoor Foundation, a nonprofit of the outdoor recreation industry – with members such as The North Face, REI, The Conservation Fund, Merrell, American’s State Parks, the National Park Service, and others.

A campout (equipment provided) and other outdoor activities are part of the summit.

A campout (equipment provided) and other outdoor activities are part of the summit.

Outdoor Nation Director Ivan Levin put it this way, “During the summits, we all get together, discuss the things that are important to Outdoor Nation, learn from each other and come up with ideas to overcome the challenges young people face getting outdoors. Then, the Outdoor Foundation supports us with grant money, training and really everything we need to get the job done.”

Roundtable sessions will be held at UNC-Chapel Hill, and outdoor activities and a campout will be at Jordan Lake. Levin said the informal activities are a great venue for young people to network with leaders in the outdoor industry. In the past, those have sometimes led to internships and new career directions.

The time to register for the Outdoor Nation summit is now, whether you’re an

individual or a group of outdoor-loving folks. Find how to become a delegate here.

Follow Outdoor Nation on Facebook here.

And, get some real inspiration on the movement from videos here.

The summit is a chance to network with like-minded folks and outdoor professionals.

The summit is a chance to network with like-minded folks and outdoor professionals.

Lake James State Park trails connect history, nature and young minds

Ranger Jamie Cameron invites youngsters to touch and smell a rotten log on the Holly Discovery Trail.

Ranger Jamie Cameron invites youngsters to touch and smell a rotten log on the Holly Discovery Trail being created by state parks system staff.

On Earth Day this past Monday, Lake James State Park had reason to celebrate. With a group of hikers like by Park Superintendent Nora Coffey, the park officially opened a new trail segment to be incorporated into the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (OVNHT).

For youngsters, the park also presented a “sneak peek” of its Holly Discovery Trail now in development, which will bring hands-on nature exhibits into the outdoors. Several of the exhibits have been competed, ready for young eyes, hands and noses to explore.

The Overmountain trail project completes a modest two-mile segment within the park, but it’s also a critical link in the park’s integration

The Overmountain National History Trail, a National Park Service component touches on Paddy's Creek within the state park.

The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, a National Park Service component, touches on Paddy’s Creek within the state park.

with a regional trail and recreation system in Burke and McDowell counties and beyond. The greater OVNHT extends from southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee, tracing the route of American revolutionaries who gathered to defeat British loyalists at the Battle of Kings Mountain. The park plans to extend its OVNHT segment from the Paddy’s Creek Area to the older Catawba River Area a few miles to the south. From there, it’ll connect to a planned Catawba River Greenway between Morganton and Marion. At the other end, the OVNHT to the north, as a component of the National Park Service, promises access to public lands in the Linville Gorge.

The new trail segment, including two bridges, was built by park staff with the help of volunteers with strong support from the nonprofit Overmountain Victory Trail Association.  Within the park, the OVNHT touches on the scenic Paddy’s Creek and sometimes follows the Lake James shoreline.

The three-quarter-mile Holly Discovery Trail is a new concept for the state parks system, bringing professionally designed, interactive exhibits to the outdoors. It provides a great venue for rangers to give interpretive hikes, or visitors can explore it on their own. It will eventually feature 18 stations, each with a unique activity or interpretive message.

For example, the “Something’s Rotten” exhibit invites visitors to see, feel and smell rotten logs and the plant life and critters that depend on them. A “Hiding Animal” station challenges visitors to spot likenesses of creatures in the brush and trees from a single vantage point.

The two-year project is being designed and built entirely by state parks system staff.

Blind hiker takes on challenge of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail

On one of his more memorable hikes, Trevor Thomas, by his own count, fell more than 3,000 times, suffered four broken ribs and visited seven hospitals (and one veterinary clinic when a hospital couldn’t be found).

Trevor Thomas and his guide dog Tennille tackling a mountain section of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail.

Trevor Thomas and his guide dog Tennille tackling a mountain section of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail.

At the end of it all, Thomas became the first blind hiker to complete an unassisted, solo hike of the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail. Today or tomorrow, accompanied by his guide dog Tennille and a park ranger he’s expected to trek into Mount Mitchell State Park’s campground, well into another daunting journey —  roughly 1,000 miles on the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail.

This latest expedition, which began April 1, is special to Thomas, who lives in Charlotte and firmly believes the MST is a North Carolina gem that should get more attention and support that he hopes to attract with his effort. North Carolina’s state parks system is supporting Thomas’ hike, and we’ll follow his progress as he makes his way from Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Thomas’ principal corporate sponsor is THORLO, a Statesville-based athletic wear company, and he’s getting support from Guide Dogs for the Blind, Ahnu, Big Agnes, ExOfficio and Marmot.

(Find out more about Thomas’ history here and follow him on Facebook here.)

In 2004, a rare degenerative eye disease started taking Thomas site. It was nearly four years before he began finding his way again, so to speak. In an interview with Blue Ridge Magazine, he recounted, “In my sighted life, I was always into extreme sports – from backcountry skiing and mountain biking to parachuting. When I was going blind, those things kept being taken away from me. It felt like my world was getting smaller, and that caused a good bit of depression. Then, one of my friends took me to see Erik Weihenmayer speak. He’s the first blind guy to climb Everest, and he had a similar eye disease. I decided that if he could do Everest, I could do something too.”

After the Appalachian Trail, Thomas summited Mount Mitchell in 2009 and then Mount Whitney in 2010. He completed the challenging

2,654-mile Pacific Crest Trail and the Tahoe Rim Trail as part of team efforts.

Thomas and Tennille share responsibility for one another.

Thomas and Tennille share responsibility for one another.

The Mountains-to-Sea State Trail presents unique challenges, Thomas said. Just over half the route is on single-track hiking trail with the remainder – in parts of the piedmont and the eastern plain – charted along rural roads. This is his first significant hike accompanied by a guide dog. Tennille is trained to help Thomas find the track, but she also puts extra responsibility on the hiker, who must carry extra supplies for the animal and make sure she’s well tended.

Thomas said the first few weeks on the MST through mountainous terrain have been challenging, with few fellow hikers who might help with information (and company), many fallen trees and some very cold nights due to a late spring. In Sunday’s Facebook post from the trail he wrote, “Today we fought for every mile. Trail conditions were less than we expected after yesterday. The trail was hard to navigate for both Tennille and me and we had a lot of climbing, rock hopping and walking on cliffs. This made for slow going. As a result, we only made 10 miles in nine hours.”

Clayton opens its link on Mountains-to-Sea State Trail

The trail is paved with a 70-foot bridge over the Neuse River.

The trail is paved with a 70-foot bridge over the Neuse River.

The speaker list was a tad long for Friday’s dedication of the River Walk on the Neuse trail in Clayton, but that was right and proper. Every level of government made a significant contribution to the trail project that has been formally accepted as a link in the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail.

The trail that Clayton began planning more than 10 years ago was created with a mix of town, state and federal expertise and funds, and involved the town’s recreation department, the state parks system and the state DOT.

“The example you are setting is statewide and national. Everybody that could and would, did,” U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre said minutes before a ribbon of natural vine was cut on four-miles of paved greenway alongside the river. At one point the trail crosses the Neuse on a 70-foot, steel-span bridge.

Clayton bought the land for the trailhead a few years ago, using a $300,000 grant from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund as seed money and built a parking area and other infrastructure on Old Covered Bridge Road. The N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation secured a key, 329-acre tract four miles north at the Wake-Johnston county line with funding from the Parks and Recreation and Clean Water Management trust funds. That property, with its 1.6 miles of river frontage, will be managed by Clayton under a unique lease agreement. The state DOT arranged for engineering and much of the construction of the bridge and the trail itself, using federal funding.

Clayton’s trail segment will very soon connect with Raleigh’s contribution to the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail – a greenway stretching from the Wake-Johnston line north to the Falls Lake Dam. Within a few years, the greater trail will be complete from Clayton northwest to Hillsborough, a distance of about 100 miles.

Brad Ives, assistant secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said contributions from towns

Clayton Official Stacy Beard, center, talks with (from left) Carol Tingley, deputy director of the Division of Parks and Recreation, Brad Ives, assistant secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Lewis Ledford, state parks director, and U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre.

Clayton official Stacy Beard, center, talks with (from left) Carol Tingley, deputy director of the Division of Parks and Recreation, Brad Ives, assistant secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Lewis Ledford, state parks director, and DOT Secretary Tony Tata.

such as Clayton become part of a much larger vision for North Carolina – the 1,000-mile cross-state trail launched in 1977 by Howard Lee, former head of the environmental agency.

Ives told the crowd, “Thank you for being here so we can see part of the realization of Howard Lee’s dream and vision, and thank you for being part of that.”

Slightly more than half of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail has been built as dedicated walking/biking path, and much of that is on federal or state conservation lands including state parks. The remainder is routed along rural roads.

Lewis Ledford, state parks director, said, “These state parks and these trails, we find, are economic engines in the communities where they’re located. We can make this trail happen; let’s make sure we make this happen.”

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