North Carolina, with its diverse landscapes and rich history, has always been a beacon for outdoor enthusiasts and historians. As we celebrate Year of the Trail, there are many intersections of trails and history, one significant parallel is between the state’s trail system and one of the most significant historical periods in American history—Juneteenth.
Juneteenth is celebrated annually on June 19, and it marks the day in 1865 when enslaved African Americans in Texas finally received news of their freedom, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. It’s a day of joy, reflection, and celebration of the enduring spirit of African American freedom.
North Carolina’s extensive trail system spans the rugged Appalachians to the serene coastal plains and provides an avenue to explore and understand the journey of African Americans toward freedom through a number of intersections of history and trails. The intertwining of these two themes represents an opportunity for trail advocacy, education, and a chance to honor history in The Great Trails State.
The Underground Railroad is a network of secret routes and safe houses used by enslaved African Americans in their quest for freedom in the 19th century. The trails and routes of the Underground Railroad played an instrumental role in the daring escape for countless people. Now, these historical trails serve as a poignant reminder of this quest for freedom. They provide an opportunity for people today to literally walk in the footsteps of those who sought liberation, creating a deeper understanding of this critical period in history.
One such trail is the ‘Network to Freedom’ trail in Guilford County. Part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program, the trail recognizes the Guilford College Woods‘ significance to the Underground Railroad as the earliest documented instance of Underground Railroad activity. Other UGRR sites are located in Halifax and The Great Dismal Swamp.
North Carolina’s advocacy for trails isn’t only about preserving the past; it’s about shaping the future too. By promoting safe and accessible trails, the state encourages outdoor recreation, healthy lifestyles, and a connection with nature among its residents and visitors. Moreover, these trails serve as open-air classrooms where the younger generations can learn about the history and heritage of their nation and state.
As we celebrate Juneteenth, let’s honor the history of the African American struggle for freedom by taking a walk on North Carolina’s trails. It’s not only a step back into history but also a stride into a future that values freedom, health, and connection with nature.
Trails are not just pathways through the wilderness; they’re the veins that carry the lifeblood of our history, culture, and legacy. And, these trails are the trails that built and make North Carolina The Great Trails State.