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
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.