One day, hikers will be able to step on a trail near one of Appalachia's highest peaks and follow an off-road path all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Next year, officials say they hope to make more headway on the 1,000-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail in North Carolina by commissioning a master plan, while the nonprofit group Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail—which says as many as 10 hikers per year are already completing the journey by following country roads where trails haven't been built—plans to finish chapters of a guide covering more than half the route by February. The guide will ID campsites and other lodging at regular intervals along the route from Clingmans Dome to the Outer Banks. So far, 600 miles of trail have been completed, but it could take years to piece together the rest, with about 15 miles of trail added each year, according to the executive director of the nonprofit.
The idea of a trail spanning the state was proposed in 1977. Sections were designated starting in the 1980s with public land on the coast, followed by mountain sections and patches in between. Existing trail has been pieced together by state and local governments, nonprofits, volunteers, and private landowners. The state has purchased parcels of land for the trail in recent years but doesn't have a set budget for the overall project, says a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The department announced this month that it hired a consultant to develop a master plan in 2015. "The beauty of a trail that goes from the mountains to the sea is that you get to experience an evolving landscape ... at a pace that your mind can absorb and connect with," says hiker Philip Werner. More on the trail here. (Read more North Carolina stories.)