PINNACLE — A new trail which will open in June will take visitors to the river section of Pilot Mountain State Park along Horne Creek to an area on the Yadkin River that a pair of bald eagles calls home.
The trail is being constructed by the Friends of Sauratown Mountains, and modifies and extends the existing Horne Creek trail to help prevent erosion and add over a mile and half of additional trail segments to the existing trail system.
“Most of the trail we have built in the past year,” said Friends of Sauratown Mountains President Jay Young. “We are hoping to be able to have a National Trails Day event on the first Saturday in June to dedicate the existing trail.”
Young said the new trail improves on the existing trail which was being lost to the eroding creek banks in some areas.
“In some places we have moved it just a short distance away,” said Young. “In other places we have moved it a significant distance.”
The new trail is being built using new sustainable methods that are designed to make the trail undulate and limit the area where water can accumulate or erode the existing trail.
“Once the new trail is completed we will be eliminating two sections that are fall-line trails,” said Pilot Mountain State Park Superintendent Matt Windsor. “That will be good for water quality, good for reducing erosion and storm water runoff and will be just plain nicer to hike.”
The trail will eventually meander along the Yadkin River past an area where two bald eagles have nested for the past 10 years. Windsor said the trail would not interfere with the eagles’ habitat, but would allow visitors a chance to see the somewhat rare birds.
Young added the part of the reason his group had focused on this trail was to raise awareness of the river section of the park.
“Everybody knows about the mountain section of the park,” he said. “Not everybody knows about the river section. We are trying to get people to learn more about the section down here and make use of this and maybe take a little bit of the load off of the mountain section.
“At peak times, Matt and his staff are pretty much reduced to traffic directors,” Young added, “because we really do not have the parking that we need up there.”
The Friends of Sauratown Mountains work on the trail twice a month, and spent time installing a bench along it on Saturday before showing the new trail section off to State Parks North District Superintendent Dave Cook and Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources Brad Ives.
Prior to showing off the trail, Young took the opportunity of the visit to lobby for the creation of a visitors center at Pilot Mountain.
“It is the most iconic mountain in North Carolina,” said Young. “It is located on U.S. 52 which is designated to become and interstate highway and it will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2018. We would really love to dedicate a visitors center at Pilot Mountain when it celebrates its 50th anniversary.”
Ives said that the park system is working on planning for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the state’s park system.
“With that we may have the opportunity to come in and do things like build a new visitors center,” he said. “We have six parks that basically do not have a visitors center and that is a key thing people want to see when they visit a park.”
He said the state’s park system has routinely ranked as one of the best in the nation while working with one of the smallest per capita budgets.
“We are 47th per capita in our operational spending for parks,” said Ives. “We are also a gold medal finalist which means we are in the top five park systems in the country. We have the largest zoo in the world. We have three aquariums and no other state has more than one. Our museum of natural sciences is in the finals to be the number one museum in the entire United States. All of this is happening without a lot of tax dollars.
“Having volunteer groups out here building trails and putting in benches is important,” he added. “It helps everybody in the state of North Carolina.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.