On the 40th anniversary of Harold Lee’s speech that ignited the wildfire known as the Mountains-To-Sea Trail, local residents spread out across Elkin’s own Section 6.
“Every mile of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is going to be walked in this one day,” explained Dr. Bill Blackley of the Elkin Valley Trails Association. “Six people are walking some sections, but there’s at least one person walking every section.”
There are 18 segments of the 1,150-mile trail that stretches from Clingman’s Dome on the western edge of North Carolina all the way to the Outer Banks on the coast. “[The EVTA is] responsible from the [Blue Ridge] Parkway and Devil’s Overlook all the way through Stone Mountain, to Elkin and to Pilot Mountain,” said Blackley.
In addition to being responsible for maintaining, cleaning up, improving and blazing new sections of trail in the designated segment, on Saturday, leader Randy Mays and his team were responsible for making sure every part of Section 6 was traveled including the Yadkin River.
“There’s signage around here that says ‘It starts with a river,’” said Riverkeeper member Rick Chatham, claiming it was because of the river that the extensive trail system exists in Elkin. “It’s the lifeblood that flows through our community.
“I grew up on the Yadkin in Ronda. I live on the Yadkin in Elkin,” said Chatham before embarking at Crater Park in Elkin with the plan of disembarking about 10 hours later at Pilot Mountain. “I’m a water person. This is what I do.”
Chatham thinks the complementary relationship between the trail and river should continue to be cultivated. “I love all the trails and I love hiking with my friends and I love hiking Stone Mountain,” said Chatham.
Stone Mountain and the Yadkin River aren’t the only exciting local pieces on the MST.
“My section was through Elkin,” said Elkin Mayor Sam Bishop as he took a break at Dirty Joe’s for coffee before continuing his detour to Elkin Farmers Market to say hello to EVTA members.
“I walked from [Elkin] Municipal Park all the way downtown to the Yadkin Valley General Store,” said a laughing Bishop. “Of course I took a lot of breaks to talk to people [like] some people from Florida who were looking for a place to eat.”
Bishop also made it a point to visit with local business owners. “I stopped in and talked to Sly [Best] at the barber shop. He was real busy but he did come out and say hello and give me some encouragement,” said Bishop. “At Wanderlust, I sat down in a chair and took a break. We had a good time.”
Bishop also had a good time at the farmers market where EVTA members were selling chances for the annual Duck and Turtle Regatta which helps raise funds for their continued efforts.
“At Elkin Valley Trails, everything we earn goes right back into trail building and other projects that we’re involved with,” said Joe Hicks, who wrangles the ducks and turtles with assistance from local Boy Scouts and some of Elkin’s most junior citizens.
“We put the little ducks and turtles in the creek down behind the library, they come down and go over the waterfall behind the library,” said Hicks. “We have a bucket that we put the first 46 in and have little 3- or 4-year-old kids come over and draw out of the bucket.”
Numbers on the ducks will be assigned to those who purchased a chance at one of the prizes including a kayak from Yadkin River Adventures, bikes from Walmart, gift certificates to local restaurants and other items.
Chances to win the regatta can be found at the Elkin Farmers Market every Saturday in the summer from 9 a.m. to noon until the regatta starts at the end of the Yadkin Valley Pumpkin Festival on Sept. 23, however every day can be an excellent opportunity to help.
Even during a walk for fun, some Friends of the MST couldn’t help doing some light work during their segment hike.
“We’re going to walk and weed today,” said Blackley. “We’re going to take some paint with us and we’re going to do a little work on the trail. Freshen the signs up and do a little weeding.”
“We’re trying to make sure that there’s something for everybody,” said Hicks, who is proud of the family-friendly activity the trails offer locals and tourists alike. “Most everybody enjoys getting out in nature and hiking the trails.”
“We love anything that gets us outdoors and anything that we can bring our pooch along with, too,” said Katie Griswold of Wilmington.
Griswold with companion Perry Shaw not only became more active travelers after encouragement from National Parks programs, but the MST helped turn them into Elkin lovers.
“Last year we completed the state park challenge so we did all 41 state parks in a year,” said Griswold. “When we finished that we decided that we need to start a new adventure so we started hiking segments of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.”
“I’m ready to move here,” said Shaw, “the charm, there’s tons to do, and trails attract us. There seems to be a huge network of trails around here. I told her this morning we don’t have to go back to Wilmington.
“Everyone we have encountered has been nothing but friendly and nice and takes the time to talk to you,” said Shaw. “In larger cities, you just don’t get that.”
Although a congenial town by nature, a possible reason for the positive reception for the neighbors from Wilmington might be their own friendly attitude.
“These are the people who are going to pick up the last leg,” said Dee Neil, referring to a section unhiked due to health issues.
“They just flagged us down and we’re happy to do it,” said Griswold. “It’s a beautiful day out.”
“It’s been a great day,” agreed Bishop. “It’s a beautiful day for walking and I really enjoyed it.”
To learn more about hiking Segment 6 of the Mountains-To-Sea trail, go to www. mountainstoseatrail.org/segment/6/ or visit the Elkin Valley Trails Association at www.facebook.com/ElkinValleyTrails/.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Twitter @TBeanieTaylor.