As summer drifts away and the cool air calls you outdoors, a nice long walk should fill the bill. How about starting in the Smoky Mountains and finishing at the Outer Banks? Pack a lunch!
With a vision of doing just that, North Carolina has been constructing the Mountains-to-Sea Trail – some 672 miles of dedicated hiking path – to make it possible to trek from one end of the state to another.
On Saturday afternoon, Oct. 11, the town of Hillsborough will mark the official opening of its completed section of the trail – the third phase of the Hillsborough Riverwalk, now ready for hikers and bikers.
“In Hillsborough, we pay attention to our heritage – and Riverwalk connects our historic places, diverse cultural histories, and natural heritage all along the Eno,” Mayor Tom Stevens said. “Riverwalk is the most significant addition to Hillsborough in the 21st century."
Twenty years ago, town planners envisioned an Eno River corridor for walking and hiking trails. After a 2001 feasibility study and nearly a decade of planning, the Riverwalk project was added to the Hillsborough Community Connectivity Plan, adopted in 2009.
“It seemed far-fetched at the time,” said Margaret Hauth, current planning director. “We hadn’t built our first park yet – not even a playground.”
Although the feasibility study recommended a route, Hauth said another was chosen. “A property owner, whose land had been unavailable, changed his mind,” she said. “Then an adjacent owner did the same. It changed everything.”
The Orange County stretch of nearly two miles snakes along the Eno River from Gold Park to the Occoneechee Speedway.
The Phase 2 section of the walk was completed earlier this summer and provides an east-west connection between trails in Gold Park and the county-owned River Park in downtown Hillsborough. It is one of the few sections of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail that is located in an urban area.
The newly completed third phase runs along the river behind the Orange County Courthouse complex and is now accessible near the Gateway Center on South Churton Street.
When using the trail, hikers and cyclists should follow common safety protocols, such as use during daylight only, walking with a buddy or a group of people and not leaving trash behind.
Saturday’s celebration will serve as the formal grand opening for the greenway along the Eno River. The town is hosting a kickoff event in collaboration with local businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Three “welcome stations” will be located along the trail:
A tree planting ceremony at 1:30 p.m. at the main entrance to Riverwalk (at the end of Nash and Kollock Street) will be followed by remarks by Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens recognizing contributions to the trail. Other activities will follow the ceremony at the two other welcome stations, including puppet making for the upcoming Handmade Parade, bike decorating, live music and a scavenger hunt.
A schedule and map of activities for the day will be available at each welcome station, as well as information about Hillsborough. Participants are encouraged to bring refillable water bottles to eliminate the excess use of plastic water bottles. Water fountains are available at Gold Park and the Hillsborough Visitors Center, 150 E. King St.
The town has acquired 20 acres that will be critical for Hauth’s next planning project: a train station planned for the other side of the Eno River, adjacent to the Yadkin Bank on Churton Street. “It won’t be as long term a process, but we’re very excited about it,” she said.