ATLANTIC BEACH — Visitors to Fort Macon State Park will soon be able to walk among the cedars and oaks that line the first half of a new trail under construction at the park.
The park staff plans to open the first half of the three-mile, looping nature trail on Saturday, Oct. 10. This new trail, which the park staff started working on last winter, will go from the fort itself westward, through the maritime forest and along the sound side of Fort Macon Road, down to the picnic area next to the park’s main swimming beach. From there, the trail will loop back around eastward, following the road back to the fort.
Randy Newman, park superintendent, said the westward stretch of trail along the sound side of the road would be the first to open. The staff’s goal is to have the entire trail open and dedicated at the N.C. Park System’s 100th anniversary celebration in April.
The trail, once finished, will be dedicated to Dr. Elliott Coues, a surgeon and naturalist stationed at the fort during the Civil War. Mr. Newman said there had been a nature trail previously dedicated to Dr. Coues at the park, but that trail had been cut off due to an expansion to the park’s drain field, leaving only a small walking path loop currently bearing the name.
“We’re the most visited state park,” Mr. Newman said, “but we don’t have a (full-sized) trail, and it’s a shame.”
Apparently park visitors feel the same way. Mr. Newman said many visitors have been requesting the park build a full walking trail. After a public hearing on the proposed trail, where the staff received no opposition, the park staff sought the necessary permits to build the trail and sought funds for the project.
Mr. Newman said the park staff has funded the project so far with no state funds, instead using individual donations – including a $20,000 donation from an individual Mr. Newman said asked to remain anonymous – and the help of the Friends of Fort Macon, a nonprofit citizens group that supports the park. The staff has also kept costs down by performing all the work in-house.
“There’s seven small boardwalks over wetlands,” Mr. Newman said. “A lot of places there’s gravel, while in other places we’ve left it natural. It’s amazing, the natural beauty of the park; people are going to be amazed at the ecosystems out there.”
Additional features are being considered for the future. Mr. Newman said the $20,000 donor has requested bird exhibits along the trail; trail guides are also being considered.
The trail is primarily being built as a pedestrian trail. Mr. Newman said they’re going to allow bicycles on the trail (though no motorized vehicles) to see how well it works, but if problems come up they may put restrictions on bikes.
Mr. Newman said as they’ve been working on the trail, they’ve been asking visitors what kinds of features they want, incorporating requests into the trail.
“We’ve had a lot of people asking when it will open,” he said. “Right now, all we have locally (for forest hiking trails) is Neusiok Trail in the Croatan (National Forest), and people say they don’t like to use that during hunting season.”
Mr. Newman said the park staff likes to help people get outdoors and to exercise. He said the new trail, once finished, will act as a 5K exercise trail.
“We’ve had some interest from schools for using it for training for cross-country events,” he said.
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.