Saturday, April 20, 2024

Mountains-to-Sea Trail conference coming to Surf City this weekend, jumpstarting spring tourism season

Pender County spokesperson Tammy Proctor said the conference will be a "shot in the arm" for Surf City's businesses after Hurricane Florence.

The Mountains to Sea Trail as it passes through Pender County on its way to Topsail Island. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail)
The Mountains to Sea Trail as it passes through Pender County on its way to Topsail Island. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail)

SURF CITY — Trail builders, conservationists, and general outdoor enthusiasts will meet at the annual Mountains-to-Sea Trail conference held this weekend in Surf City.

Pender County spokesperson Tammy Proctor said the conference, called the Gathering of Friends, will be a kickstart to Surf City’s post-Florence tourism economy.

“After all the recovery from Hurricane Florence, with all these people coming in it’s going to be a shot in the arm for our businesses to host this conference,” Proctor said.

She said 250 people have registered for the conference, and each will bring family members, friends, and “hiking buddies” to Topsail Island.

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) is a 1,175-mile footpath that connects the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks. The route — 645 miles of which consist of an actual walking trail  —  passes south of Asheville then northeast through Pisgah National Forest, east through the Triangle area, then south to Elizabethtown before heading through Pender County on its way over the new Surf City Bridge to Topsail Island.

Proctor said the trail’s portion in the western side of the county is labeled Land of History, where it takes you by the historic train depot in Burgaw and through Moore’s Creek National Battlefield. It then crosses the Northeast Cape Fear River before entering Holly Shelter Game Land, unique for its rare carnivorous plant species including the Venus flytrap and the pitcher plant.

The conference has been held in Elkin the past two years, and Proctor said it draws a specific kind of North Carolinian.

“These are folks who hike, who build trail, who work on chainsaw gangs and clear trail. These are just hard-working, love-the-outdoors people,” Proctor said.

Proctor said much of the trail within Pender County traverses along roads as the county and different municipalities like Surf City continue to develop the trail system.

Registration

Most events require registration (a schedule of events is found below). Registration for excursions and volunteer projects on Thursday and Friday will be handled separately from the Gathering of Friends events.

Registration for the Gathering of Friends conference is found here. Proctor said that although the deadline to register is Wednesday, March 20, people are welcome to register at the door on Saturday morning at the Surf City Community Center (201 Community Center Dr.).

Schedule of Events

Registration for some events have already reached capacity and are now closed. The following are still open to register:

Trail Workday: Trail Building at Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest

Come help build a new section of the MST that will cross the Jones Lake Drain and connect the forest’s trail system with Jones Lake State Park. Forest staff has cleared a path through the trees with heavy machinery, and volunteers will follow behind to clear debris, smooth the path, and blaze trees along the route.

  • When: Thursday, March 22, 1 to 5 p.m.
  • Where: Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest
  • Registration: Required; register here.

Trail Workday: Moores Creek National Battlefield

  • When: Friday, March 22, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Where: Meet at 40 Patriots Hall Dr., Currie, NC
  • Registration: Required, register here.

Moore’s Creek Bridge was where Patriots defeated over 800 Loyalists in 1776. Now, it gives MST hikers a respite from the trail’s passage along roads in the area. After heavy flooding from Florence, volunteers will complement work already underway by the National Park Service. Rangers will share history of the site as you work.

Beach Hike and Trash Pick-up

  • When: Friday, March 22, 1 to 3 p.m.
  • Where: Meet at the Surf City Welcome Center (102 N. Shore Dr.)
  • Registration: Required; register here.

Staff from Ecological Marine Adventures will educate hikers on the Topsail Island ecosystem while walking the beach cleaning trash.

Guided Mayor’s Tour of Surf City and Topsail Island

  • When: Friday, March 22, 2 to 4 p.m.
  • Where: Meet at the Surf City Community Center (201 Community Center Dr.)
  • Registration: Required (space limited); register here.

Surf City Mayor Doug Medlin will lead a cultural and historical tour on Topsail Island, stopping by Finger Canals, Trailer Bar, Barnacle Bill’s Fishing PIer Remnants, the William Sumner Shipwreck, the Bumblebee towers, and Surf City Pier.

Reception at the Sea Turtle Hospital

The hospital’s director and leader of sea turtle conservation movement, Jean Beasley, will discuss the center’s work in rescuing and rehabbing sick and injured sea turtles, and guests will be able to meet some of the resident turtles.

  • When: Friday, March 22, 5 to 6:30 p.m.
  • Where: Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center (302 Tortuga Lane)
  • Registration: Registration for this event is included in registration for the Gathering of Friends, which you can register for here. You can also register at the door or at the Surf City Community Center (201 Community Center Dr.).

Welcome to the Coast Dinner

Jerk chicken, beer brisket, and shrimp and grits will be provided along with a short welcome program and a hiking gear raffle.

  • When: Friday, March 22, 6:30 to 8 p.m.
  • Where: Surf City Community Center (201 Community Dr.)
  • Registration: Registration for this event is included in registration for the Gathering of Friends, which you can register for here. You can also register at the door or at the Surf City Community Center (201 Community Center Dr.).

Drinks and Camaraderie

Join for after-dinner beers at Pender County’s lone brewery, the veteran-owned and veteran-operated Salty Turtle Beer Company, located a walking distance from the Community Center.

  • When: Friday, March 22, 8 pm.
  • Where: Salty Turtle Brewing Co. (103 Triton Lane)
  • Registration: Not required.

Membership Meeting and Lunch

The “Annual Meeting” will include MST progress reports, a keynote address by Walker Golder (director of the National Audubon Society’s Atlantic Flyway Coast Initiative), several workshops, and awards presented to past through-hikers and volunteers. Doors open at 9 a.m.

  • When: Saturday, March 23, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Where: Surf City Community Center (201 Community Center Dr.)
  • Registration: Registration for this event is included in registration for the Gathering of Friends, which you can register for here. You can also register at the door or at the Surf City Community Center (201 Community Center Dr.).

Service and Trail Workshops

Four different workshops (information found here) include an information session on the Coastal Crescent Trail, trail mapping, how to design a trailhead, a hike along the MST along Topsail Island, and how to install a wooden bench in the Everett Creek Preserve.

  • When: Saturday, March 23; various times from 1:30 p.m. to 4:40 p.m.
  • Where: Various locations
  • Registration: Registration and information for each workshop are found here.

Sunset Hike across the Surf City Bridge

A sunset hike over Surf City’s new 65-foot high, $53 million bridge will be the first group-walk across the entire bridge.

  • When: Saturday, March 23, at 6 p.m.
  • Where: Meet at Soundside Park (517 Roland Ave.)
  • Registration: Required; register here.

Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com

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