It’s Year of the Trail in North Carolina – So what?

In North Carolina we are the product of our environment. The people who can greet a sea breeze in the morning and tuck into a mountain chill at night. Who sprout from land that rolls across the hills of the piedmont. Who shape cities that hustle and bustle beside glistening rivers.

Across this vibrant stretch of Southern soil, a system of trails unfurls into limitless opportunity. These paths are a place of refuge and recreation. They connect us to the very essence of this state. To its natural splendor. To its storied, winding history. And – with our active use and care – to its future. Because we blaze and sustain trails together: those born and bred here, and those beckoned by its promise as the Great Trails State.

Down rugged trailheads and through city parks, there is a trail for each of us. An invitation for bikers, hikers, paddlers, and riders. For amblers, explorers, and commuters. Craving the inhale of impossibly crisp air, we meet mountains and look over the edge of the earth. The lull of Atlantic tides pulls us back to sandy paths. With the wind in our hair and a rush of adrenaline, we weave and bob alongside buildings that scrape the clouds.

Along these trails, we lead and we follow. With kids on our shoulders, dogs trotting ahead, critters burrowing below and flying above. We march on our own and we build community. We find new purpose, generation after generation. We laugh and sweat and reflect. We take on epic adventures. Or we might just take a moment.

We need trails. To move, to play, to discover. Because North Carolina’s trails are for all of us. To enjoy, to sustain, and to champion. Us, the products of the places where our feet are firmly planted – and the new growth where great trails lead. This is our year. The Year of the Trail.

– North Carolina Year of the Trail Anthem

If you’re reading this, no matter what your relationship to trails may be (if you don’t already know), you’re probably wondering what all of the fuss about Year of the Trail is.

The closing paragraph of the Year of the Trail Anthem above sums it up eloquently: “We need trails. To move, to play, to discover. To enjoy, sustain, and to champion…” That is exactly what all of the fuss is. Trails are a critical element in the fabric of North Carolina.

Trails connect one place to another, providing a link, a way to get around. They provide a place for fellowship and community, connecting people to each other. Trails also provide a connection to one’s self through physical activity – ever heard someone say they had a “spiritual experience” after an exceptionally challenging hike, run, ride, or other activity? There’s something to all of that and you don’t need to spend hours out on a trail to reap the benefits of that connection.

Grandfather Mountain State Park

Physical activity, being outside, connected, and moving on trails, has been proven repeatedly to have a positive impact on health. Sure, it’s fun, but it’s good for you too! Just about any activity you pick to participate in on a trail is going to have a positive impact on your health. Moving on trails helps build physical and cardiovascular fitness, and coordination. Take enough walks, hikes, or rides, and what once seemed to be a long ways away will start to feel a little closer to home and things that were once unreachable may become achievable goals.

All of those physical benefits are great, but the benefits of being outside and discovering new places, understanding what you are capable of doing, the fellowship with (or without) others, and the time spent in nature will do wonders for your mental health too. Studies have shown that physical activity outside can help reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even improve cognitive function.

Trails play such a vital role in North Carolina. Those who live in The Great Trails State, and those who visit, use trails to get outside. To move, explore, discover, and have fun. These trails also play a vital role in the state’s economy, bringing in billions of dollars in revenue. Tourism related to trails in North Carolina sustains over 160,000 jobs.

New Belgium Brewery in Asheville, NC, found its home next to greenways and adjacent to hundreds of miles of trails. According to the owners, trail infrastructure was a critical prerequisite in deciding the brewery’s location.

With that, legislators in The Great Trails State introduced and easily passed NC House Bill 554, declaring 2023 as North Carolina Year of the Trail. If you want to read the entire thing, which we’d recommend, click the link above. However, since time is short and we’re happy you’re even reading this blog, here is the first bit:

Whereas, North Carolina has a comprehensive network of public trails and greenways
constructed by local, State, and federal agencies and nonprofit partners (more than 618 miles
within our 41 units of State Parks and on State Park lands and 938 miles of designated State
Trails), and more than 3,500 miles of planned trail networks. Connecting trail segments is a
powerful tool for economic and community development that should be actively facilitated; and

Whereas, outdoor trails are used for a variety of activities, including walking, hiking,
biking, commuting, rolling, paddling, and horseback riding, and the many miles of trails that
exist throughout North Carolina have allowed countless individuals to reflect on the splendor of
the State’s natural world. Without a doubt, these pathways are not only a source of pride for the
communities they serve, providing significant economic and environmental benefits, but are also an important feature in helping to improve the quality of life in our society by promoting healthy lifestyles via recreation and active transportation; and

Whereas, trails bring people together, as they not only connect physical locations but
also represent the bonds that create communities. By highlighting the numerous trails in our State, we also praise the innumerable people who have helped make them a reality, and their efforts celebrate the beauty of the world around us by providing accessible and functional transportation to all people, regardless of age, background, or ability…

NC House Bill 554
Far more easily than portrayed in Schoolhouse Rock, NC House Bill 554 passed and is a law.

Trails are critical to North Carolina. They provide countless physical, mental, social, and economic benefits to the state and to the people who live here, along with those who travel here. These benefits are so numerous and important that 2023 has been designated as a year to celebrate them and to work together, across North Carolina, to make trails a central part of public discussion.

That’s what all of the fuss is about. The more we bring trails to the forefront, the greater their benefits will be.