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Hiking trail draws concern

By Rose Laudicina
Staff Writer

An estimated 28 miles of the Mountains to Sea Trail are planned to run through Orange County. Of those 28, five to 10 miles have been built, while eight miles, which won’t be constructed for another eight to 10 years, are stirring up mixed emotions.

While the Orange County Board of Commissioners already endorsed the state’s recommended Mountains to Sea Trail (MST) corridor in 2010, residents, primarily in the Bingham Township, are speaking out with both reservations and praise of the proposed route.

The Orange County section of the trail as proposed would run through Hillsborough, Eno River State Park, Occoneechee Mountain and the OWASA Cane Creek Reservoir in Bingham Township.

At the Sept. 18 commissioner meeting, 17 residents signed up to voice their opinions on the eight miles running through the Cane Creek Reservoir.

While some expressed their adamant support of the trail and the planned routes – “I bring a ringing endorsement of the Mountains to Sea Trail,” Audrey Booth, who lives near the route, said – others expressed concern and uneasiness about trail plans.

“Until there is more clarity, we suggest that work on the Bingham segment of the trail be stopped,” said Bonnie Hauser of Orange County Voice. “The county has plenty to do if they focus on less controversial segments of the trail.”

Rich Shaw, the Land Conservation Manager for the Orange County Department of Environment, Agriculture, Parks and Recreation (DEAPR), said that while he has heard some opposition, he was surprised by the number of people who came to speak to the commissioners about the route.

“I did not expect to see folks get up and talk about it,” Shaw said, “but usually the people who are unhappy come out.”

Kate Dixon, executive director of the Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail, said that in her experience it is fairly common for all trail projects, not just the MST, to evoke some concern from residents about the impact of the trail.

“What usually happens is there is nervousness about it and then the trail comes in and people realize that a lot of their fears don’t come true,” Dixon said.

The main issue brought up at the commissioners meeting was around safety concerns for both trail hikers and those whose houses are close to one of the proposed routes.

“The commissioners aren’t going to allow their staff to actually build trails until all of the issues and questions about operating and managing a trail are answered,” Shaw said.

Shaw added that he and his three-person field team are still in the process of identifying a viable route through the Cane Creek Reservoir, and the OWASA board has reserved the right to modify or change any portion of the route before giving their approval.

The Friends of the MST and DEAPR are working together to schedule a meeting for some time after the November elections to continue to address concerns and be transparent about the trail routes.

“I am excited about it, but I want others to get excited about it too,” Shaw said about the MST. “It might not be everybody’s cup of tea; but if you experience it, then I think folks would say, ‘I would like to see more of this.’”

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