It is May 28th, 1953, and Sir Edmund Hillary becomes the first man to reach Mount Everest’s peak. It is July 21st, 1969, and Neil Armstrong becomes the first man to traverse the moon’s surface. It is September 3rd, 2012, and Jim Hallsey consecrates the 35th anniversary of the NC Mountains-to-Sea Trail by hiking, biking, and canoeing across North Carolina.
Perhaps of less grandeur than the former two celebrated moments in history, Hallsey’s trek is a monument to the abundant humanism of contemporary trail development. Jim Hallsey laid plans for the 935+ mile trail in 1977, in accordance with the 1973 North Carolina Trails System Act. The trail, reaching from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, showcases the diversity of the state’s landscape through hardwood forests and tea-colored swaps, fading tobacco crossroads and reviving urban centers, courthouse square towns and rugged gorges, remote lighthouses, and mountain overlooks.
Beneath a purview of modern design, the existence of vast hiking networks alongside the arguably hyperefficient automobiles of today strikes a blatant contrast. However, trail systems persevere to be created and preserved at a consistent rate. The aforementioned humanism is expanding in congruence with current greenway development in the Research Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) of North Carolina.
The Triangle Greenways Council, a land-use conservancy and environmental non-profit in the Research Triangle, has recently been recognized for its accomplishments regarding expansion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, for its addition of a 79-acre wetlands tract to the route.
The proliferation of a state-wide trail is reminiscent of the idyllically sustainable, interlinked Garden City infrastructure of the late British urban planner Ebenezer Howard. North Carolina’s über-trail spans 37 counties, each of which contains a unique municipal appearance for an intrastate traveler to explore. Encouragement to embark on the adventure, aided by the trail’s website, inherently inspires a lifestyle of antiquity and naturalism ever so sparse in modern times. The maturation of North Carolina’s trail system relies upon its landscape architects and urban planners. In this pivotal 21st century moment, it is these professions that may govern quality of life. The choice to maintain viable, long-distance pedestrian travel options will speak volumes for the freedom by which future generations can live their lives.
In postindustrial America, will unpaved trail systems face rise or decline?
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.