North Carolina trails may get financial boost from the state

The sun rises over the Blue Ridge Mountains seen from the Wayah Bald along the Appalachian Trail outside of Franklin, North Carolina, hours before the solar eclipse, Monday, August 21, 2017. Thousands ventured into the Nantahala National Forest in southwestern North Carolina to view the two and half minutes of totality during this year's solar eclipse. (Eamon Queeney / North State Journal)

RALEIGH — Hiking and paved trails in the state which saw high traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic may be getting a boost of cash for improvements and maintenance.

The spike in outdoor activity and trail use has gained the attention of lawmakers and the governor, resulting in large appropriation proposals.

Cooper’s proposed spending seeks to upgrade and improve access to trails in state parks, which saw high traffic during the pandemic. The governor’s proposed budget includes $5 million in proposed spending each year of the biennium for both paved and natural-trail planning and development. That’s a combined total of $40 million over four years. His budget also proposes spending $200,000 directed to the Conservation Corps of North Carolina for state park trail maintenance.

House Bill 936 aims to spend $20 million in non-recurring funds to support state trails over the fiscal years 2021-22 and 2022-23.  Reps. Dean Arp (R-Union), Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke), Mike Clampitt (R-Haywood), and Erin Paré (R-Wake) are the primary sponsors of House Bill 936.

Around $3 million is also included for maintenance and signage for nine state trails, including the Mountain to Sea Trail, which spans 1,175 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains to the sandy beaches of the Outer Banks.

“This is an important piece of legislation that makes a great investment into North Carolina’s trails and greenways,” said Paré. “During the COVID shutdown, we had a lot of North Carolinians anxious to get out and enjoy the outdoors. Investing in our trails will allow people in our state to enjoy the environment and scenic beauty of North Carolina.”

Mountain to Sea Trail executive director Kate Dixon says they are thrilled to see funding come their way.

“We are really, really excited about the bill [House Bill 396],” Dixon told North State Journal. “We really like what it proposes.”

Dixon said that a new group, The Great Trails State Coalition, has been working together to advocate for more investment by the state for trails due to the overwhelming interest in trails due to COVID-19.

The Great Trails State Coalition has 15 members, including the Mountain to Sea Trail. The group’s current “next steps” include building of nature trails and greenways as well as supporting tourism aspects of the state’s trail system.

“In the last six years, the legislature has created five new state trails and they are about to do two more,” Dixon said, noting there has been increased interest from lawmakers but no additional funding until now.

Given the state’s current positive financial situation, Dixon said it looked like now was the time to ask for a “substantial investment” in the trail systems. She said they had originally asked General Assembly for $70 million and hopes for additional federal funding may be available from programs such as President Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

About A.P. Dillon 1205 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_