Dear Friend of the MST:
I'm writing to invite you to get involved in a process to develop a regional trails plan for the seven far western counties in NC (Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain). The plan will also address the location of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail between the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The first public meeting for the plan is scheduled for Thursday, September 13 from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm at the Jackson County Library, 310 Keener Street, Sylva. This meeting will focus on trails in Jackson and Swain counties - including discussion of a possible MST route between Bryson City and Sylva.
FMST is delighted that this planning process will address the issue of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail route in this part of the state. Originally, the trail was proposed to parallel the Blue Ridge Parkway after leaving the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountaion National Park. However, the parkway owns almost no land in this area where it crosses the Cherokee Reservation, and we were never able to locate a workable route to build trail. People using the Blue Ridge Parkway to connect the existing trail sections are forced to hike through five tunnels.
This planning process allows us to look at the region again to find a new route for the MST. Two alternative routes that have been proposed already are depicted on this regional map (PDF 2.8 MB).
- One route (shown in blue on the map) runs through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP). The benefits of this route is that it is on existing trail in a beautiful park. The negatives are that the route is almost 80 miles long with extreme elevation gain and no locations for easy resupply.
- The alternative route (shown in pink) would leave the GSMNP at the Deep Creek campground and roughly follow the Tuckaseegee River past Bryson City, Sylva and Cullowhee before heading up through the Nanatahala National Forest to rejoin the existing trail near the Blue Ridge Parkway. The benefits of this route is that it highlights the beautiful rural landscape and small towns of this part of North Carolina. Much of it can be hiked now on rural back roads. The negative is that it will probably be many years before this route is entirely off road.
These are just two ideas to help get discussion going. We are open to all ideas. If you are knowledgeable about this area, I hope you will share your thoughts.
The seven-county regional plan is being developed by the Southwestern Commission through a grant provided by the State Trails Program of the NC Division of Parks and Recreation. The primary product of the plan will be a regionwide map indicating where existing hiking trails, greenways, horse and mountain bike trails, and some on-road bicycle routes are located. It will also include recommendations, based on public input, on where new trails, greenways or routes may be located to connect to other trails and to connect towns/communities to one another.
We hope you'll come out to share your ideas about the location of the MST and trails in western North Carolina. If you can't make the meeting in Sylva but would like to be kept informed about the planning process, please e-mail me back to ask me to add you to the list of interested people.
If you attend the meeting, please look for me. I'd like to say hello and learn more about you and your interests.
Thanks again for your love of the MST and trails. Please let me know if you have questions or comments.