New Year’s Trail

Guest Post: “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Trail Road” is appropriate for the beginning of a new year when we each pause to consider whether to follow the trail we are on or use a universal mark of a new beginning to try something new.

This article was written by my friend Gwen Veazey and published in the Morganton News Herald on July 14, 2013:

In 1978, Burke County’s premier outdoorsman, Bob Benner, came home from a national trails symposium at Lake Junaluska fired up to help create a statewide hiking trail in North Carolina similar to the Appalachian Trail. He’d been influenced by Speaker Howard Lee, then head of NC’s Environment and Natural Resources Department who promoted North Carolina having a trail from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.

Bob is an ever-smiling octogenarian, a former teacher at WPCC and author of several canoeing guide books, among many other achievements. He still gets out in the woods whenever he can.

His mapping of the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST) in this area created one of the most scenic sections of the planned 1100 mile path. About 550 miles, mostly in the western part of the state, are completed so far.

Bob’s charisma and energy help recruit volunteers, such as my husband, Doug Veazey, who, after Bob retired, now co-chairs our area’s segment of the trail with Bill Williams of Hickory. Burke County is in the Pisgah National Forest section. This is one of 16 MST groups across North Carolina who maintains the trail.

Doug informed me that our area’s roughly 70 mile section is complete and starts at Hwy 80 at the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Marion. It eventually crosses the Linville River west of Morganton, continues over Short Off Mountain and Table Rock, then down through the Steele Creek area. The trail crosses Hwy 181 about a half mile north of the Brown Mountain overlook, then winds its way to Grandfather Mountain.

Several times a month, he and about a dozen other volunteers carry tools to the trail to lop branches, remove rocks, and keep it cleared for hikers.

One of the trail workers is Kim Homme, who lives on the Linville River in the Fonta Flora community. She met Bob Benner at Riverfest last year. He had a table set up at the Lake James State Park recruiting helpers. Kim said, “I’ve always loved the outdoors.” When growing up in Pennsylvania, her father made a camper. “That’s what our vacations were–camping.”

Why does she volunteer? “People have an obligation to protect and preserve our natural resources. We need to protect the trails.”

She said, “The first time I went, it was a nice little hike and an easy day. The second time, they worked my butt off!” Kim, a captain with the Charlotte Fire Department added, “I told Doug, I’m working harder today than I do at my job.”

“I like the camaraderie, and we have a good time. It means a lot to me to go out with Bob, who was so instrumental in making the trail, and share the experience with a great group of people making sure it’s done right. I wish I could do it every day.”

Kim is one of the youngest folks who volunteer. She said, “The way they work, you wouldn’t be able to tell (most of them) were old, retired guys.” She looks forward to many more active years of keeping up the trail.

Two of the loyal workers for decades were Weldon Brittain and Emma Randall, now retired. Emma said, “I’m originally from Cleveland County, but I’ve lived in Burke for over 60 years, so I’m almost a native.” She said, “We enjoyed every moment of it and hopefully it helped someone along the way. I think anyone would enjoy it that likes to be outdoors. I was raised on a farm and I miss that!”

During her last years as a volunteer, Emma painted the trail markers. She placed a white dot about three inches in diameter, called a “blaze,” on the trees. “I had my own special little bag and brushes. Weldon trimmed; you had to trim. It didn’t automatically loom out at you; you had to make a place for the round blaze.”

The Mountains to Sea volunteers know that branches grow into the path, weeds and brush sprout up, rain and erosion wear the trail away. They continually “make a place” for hikers to walk through forests and foothills to enjoy the beauty of our land.

Happy trails to you all!

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