Year of the Trail: State trail system included in budget

A camper photographs the sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountain after sleeping on the Wayah Bald along the Appalachian Trail outside of Franklin, North Carolina, in anticipation of 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 — State lawmakers have advanced a bill that would designate 2023 as the “North Carolina Year of the Trail.”

House Bill 554 would encourage and promote North Carolinians to use their local and regional trail networks and would seek to enhance the state’s current trail networks.

The year chosen in the bill, 2023, will mark the 50th anniversary of the 1973 North Carolina Trails System Act. The state’s longest hiking trail system, the Mountain to Sea Trail, turned 49 in 2019. The trail system spans 1,1175 miles across the state from the Smokey Mountains all the way to the Outer Banks.

The measure was sent to Gov. Roy Cooper on Aug. 12 and signed into law on Aug. 16, after passing both chambers nearly unanimously. The lone “no” vote came from Republican Sen. Carl Ford (R-Rowan).

“Year of the Trail will be a tremendous opportunity to highlight North Carolina’s exceptional network of trails, and educate the public and elected officials about their value to our residents and communities,” Kate Dixon, executive director of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, said in a statement.

While the bill itself has no funding mechanism, the state’s land-based trails and paddle trails are included in the current version of the state budget.

The Complete the Trails Fund (CTF), which covers land-based trails, would gain financial support in the budget to the tune of $29.25 million.

Part of the breakdown of that allotment includes $15.1 million going to partner organizations for each land-based trail “in proportion to the number of miles of that trail not yet constructed.”

Grants in the amount of $10 million would be for land or easement acquisition to partner organizations.

Of the allotment of funds for CTF, 1% is designated for operating and administrative expenses.

Additional funding for new and development of existing paddle trails comes in at around $1.43 million.

The funding for trails in the appropriations bill appears to pull in parts of House Bill 396 which sought to spend $20 million in non-recurring funds to support state trails over the fiscal years 2021-22 and 2022-23.

In a press release, Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail’s outreach manager, Betsy Brown, credited various House representatives as leading the efforts to fund the trails.

“Rep. Dean Arp, R-69 (Union), Senior Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Reps. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke), Mike Clampitt (R-Swain), and Erin Paré (R-Wake) have taken the lead on this funding effort with help from many other members of the House, and they will work to convince the Senate to include this funding in the final version of the budget,” wrote Brown.

“This item is one of many great appropriations items in our budget that we are really happy about and proud of,” Paré told North State Journal. “This budget puts money toward a lot of important statewide causes and improvements, and funding our trails is one of them.”

About A.P. Dillon 489 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_