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Hiking Plans? Stick to Set Paths This Memorial Day

The Roan Highlands features scenes like native azaleas and the world's largest rhododendron garden. (Ken Lane/flickr)
The Roan Highlands features scenes like native azaleas and the world's largest rhododendron garden. (Ken Lane/flickr)
May 24, 2018

BAKERSVILLE, N.C. — This weekend thousands will lace up their hiking boots and explore North Carolina's hundreds of miles of hiking trails. The state's 23 land trusts play a large role in protecting outdoor recreation opportunities, including sections of the Appalachian Trail.

The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy protects and maintains the section of trail along the Tennessee and North Carolina border. Angela Shepherd with the land trust said as you enjoy the trails this weekend, stick to the path.

"You may be tempted to kind of go off the trail, especially if you're seeing large number of people there in front of you, and to kind of you know walk along side,” Shepherd said; “and that can cause issues like people creating, inadvertently, secondary trails that have some erosion issues."

Prior to SAHC's involvement, the section of trail was largely located on roads. By securing land in a trust, the trail now is found on panoramic grassy balds to showcase the beauty of the region for generations to come.

A report released earlier this month from the Outdoor Industry Association estimates outdoor recreation generates $179 billion for the South Atlantic economy, and $12 billion in the form of state, local and federal tax revenues.

SAHC, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and Appalachian Trail Conservancy, employs a naturalist that hikes the section of the trail in Roan Highlands. His job is to leave a lasting impact on visitors, said Shepherd.

"The person in this position spends the weekend hiking back and forth across that stretch of the AT, and they just educate people they meet about leave no trace principles,” she said. “They talk about the basic ecology of the Roan, what makes it so important."

The Outdoor Industry Association Report named outdoor recreation as one of the country's largest economic sectors, behind only health care and finance. Shepherd said North Carolina benefits from a large part of that resource.

"We are just blessed with a plethora really of natural resources here in this region, and getting outside to enjoy those is just so important,” she said. “And it's great for families to reconnect, it's great for our own personal health, but keeping in mind that we're kind of part of a bigger sphere."

If you're interested in enjoying a land conservation site this weekend as part of your Memorial Day plans, Blue Ridge Forever - a coalition of western North Carolina land trusts - has a list on its website. SAHC will hold its annual celebration, Appalachian Spring, at the Salvage Station in Asheville next Thursday, May 31. The public is invited.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC