KEEP POUNDING

All the couples out there – you know how you and your spouse get all excited about a new hobby and start obsessing over it?

Well, that’s where my wife and I are at with hiking. It started with the urge to do a road trip around the country when we graduate with our master’s degrees together. Then, that transitioned into camping. Well, our 4-year-old boy on the autism spectrum would make both of those pretty challenging, at least for the next few years.

So, we settled on hiking. It’s a way for the four of us (our 6-year-old boy included) to get outside together, do something physically strenuous and then crash comfortably at home or in a hotel. Now we’re on Amazon every night, drooling over the cool walking sticks and boots and pants and water filtration devices.

But we’re pacing ourselves. Until we can get to a certain level, our tennis shoes and workout shorts will be enough. We got a camel pack for mom to wear, a push stroller for dad to push and a little zip pouch for our oldest little adventurer.

Obviously, western North Carolina has the hiking reputation, but I was surprised at how many trails were available in this county alone. Between the Croatan National Forest and surrounding, smaller trails, there is something here for every level of hiker.

Per the trail guide provided by the Carteret County Parks and Recreation Department, there are about 55 miles worth of trails that at least begin in county lines.

That’s not counting the 2.16 miles of sidewalk trail along Bridges Street – known formally as the Morehead Alternative Transportation System (MATS) trail – the 5.3 miles of multi-use path in Emerald Isle, the 1-mile loop around Fort Benjamin Park in Newport, the 1.14 miles of the Calico Creek Boardwalk in Morehead City or the sub-1 mile loops around Western Park in Cedar Point and Eastern Park in Smyrna.

I’m not talking about the different circuits through historic neighborhoods or the miles of beach front that makes for excellent walking, either. I’m talking about trees overhead, brush and bugs underneath, long stretches without seeing another person, and away from heavy traffic.

The easiest trails, ones most suitable for small children and walking-impaired hikers, are the 0.5-mile Hoop Pole Creek Trail in Atlantic Beach, a short jaunt to a few fun outlets along Bogue Sound, and the 0.25-mile Willow Pond Trail behind the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center on Harkers Island, a nice shady loop to tack on to a trip to Shell Point.

There are the fun beginner trails like the 1.3-mile Cedar Point Tideland Trail, an open-marsh walk with little shade but lots of little crabs to sidestep, the 1.7-mile Emerald Isle Woods Park Trail, a hilly, shady trail that sometimes brushes right up alongside residential properties, and the 1.25-mile Roosevelt Trail outside the N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, another hilly, shady trail with water views.

There are the intermediate trails like the 3.2-mile Elliott Coues Nature Trail at Fort Macon State Park, a popular loop featuring dunes and a coastal forest, the 2.65 miles of trails at Patsy Pond Nature Trail in Newport, a relatively open trail with little tree cover and berry bushes throughout, and the 8.5 miles of trails at Cedar Island Wildlife Refuge, a mix of easy and challenging trails through the marsh with moderate tree cover.

The two longest and most challenging trails in the county are the Neusiok Trail, running from Newport into Harlowe, and the Weetock Trail, beginning just north of Stella off Highway 58. The Neusiok is 22 miles of varying trail sections, with the whole of it making up a section of the state’s Mountains to See Trail. Stretches of it can be boggy, steep, or overgrown, but the trail is one of the best in the eastern part of the state.

The Weetock is a trail blazed by the Carteret County Wildlife Club in the early 2000s. The highway splits the trail roughly in half, with the southern section being better maintained and easier to traverse and the northern end being a bigger challenge.

For a place defined by the beach and overrun with primarily pine trees and sand, it’s amazing that this county has so many beautiful, diverse trails at its disposal. Other than being in a heat wave, there’s nothing keeping you (or I) from being on the trail this socially distanced summer.

(Send comments or ques-tions to zack@thenewstimes.com or follow him on Twitter @zacknally)

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