Another week of hiking for a series in this column led me to Hoop Pole Nature Trail in Atlantic Beach on Thursday.
Each week over a period of eight weeks, I am breaking down the ins and outs of the county’s major hiking trails, each with their own distinct identities and hiker appeal.
So far, I’ve covered Patsy Pond Nature Trail of the Croatan National Forest in Newport, the Elliott Coues Nature Trail at Fort Macon State Park in Atlantic Beach, the Tideland National Recreation Trail in Cedar Point and the Emerald Isle Woods Park.
Other trails coming up are: N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores Trails, the Boathouse Creek Walking Trails in Cedar Point and the southern and northern halves of the Neusiok Trail running from Newport to Harlowe.
The Hoop Pole Nature Trail, the shortest of all of the trails on this list, the N.C. Coastal Federation-maintained preserve is one of the first trails outside of the unmarked ones I’d grown up with that I remember.
The trailhead is located in the parking lot of the Atlantic Station Shopping Center, right next to Bojangles. There are no restrooms on-site, but the Atlantic Beach Town Park across the street has them.
The majority of the trail is handicap friendly, beginning with a boardwalk that carries visitors across the marsh and onto the main, paved thoroughfare. Be aware, however, that there are myriad bumps on the paved section with tree roots from the surrounding live oak, Spanish bayonet yucca and red cedar trees.
The maritime forest provides an unexpected amount of scenery for a town with little left due to development. The NCCF guide for the trail lists 13 species of growth along the 0.45-mile trail, including redbay, Hercules club, pennywort, wax myrtle, yaupon and American holly, American olive, red mulberry, small-flowered buckthorn and salt shrubs.
It’s a solid trail for bird watchers, with warblers, cardinals and mockingbirds on the trail and herons, egrets and ibises along the water’s edge. The birds are most active in the spring and fall. I heard and saw several species on Thursday.
The trail is well-shaded year-round, all the way out to the sound where overhead foliage gives way to shrubs and sand. Despite its location adjacent to a busy shopping center, the trail is relatively quiet and peaceful.
Like most shaded trails, bugs are a-plenty at Hoop Pole Creek. There are mosquitos, of course, but the real menaces are the biting flies. There are a few different species of them along the trail, and they all hurt. A brisk breeze and a brisk step go a long way to avoiding that nuisance.
There are a few notable spots on the trail, including the initial boardwalk and the open-sky section that opens up to the sound, but my favorite is the little turn-off midway down the half-mile path. It leads to a huge live oak tree, and while I’m sure the NCCF would not encourage visitors to climb trees on the trail, this one begs you to.
Some of my fondest memories growing up in this county are associated with trees. When I was in elementary school, I climbed the live oaks outside the Beaufort Public Library. When I was in middle school, I climbed dozens of pine trees that filled the yet-to-be-developed section of woods behind the White Sands neighborhood. And when I was in my early 20s, I went on a second date with my wife-to-be on this trail, and we climbed that tree.
This trail is worth the visit, whether for recreational or naturalist reasons. It’s good for wheelchairs, good for families and good for hikers of any ability.
For a town known for its oceanfront natural appeal, this trail offers refreshing sound-side discovery and outdoor recreation. It’s also the only trail that I know of next to a shopping center. You could literally go for lunch, shopping, coffee or ice cream (or all of them) and pair it with a scenic walk.
(Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @zacknally)