Rutherford County is Home to One of NC's Newest State Trails

Image Credit: Conserving Carolina

After years of planning and advocacy, the first segment of the Wilderness Gateway State Trail (WGST) is now being designed and laid out in the mountains of Rutherford County. Once complete, this state trail will begin near Weedpatch Mountain and connect the Hickory Nut Gorge State Trail along the South Mountains range to the Catawba River, winding 170 miles through Rutherford, McDowell, Burke, and Catawba Counties.

The WGST will cross remote backcountry areas, intersect local, regional, and state trails, and connect local cityscapes and greenways such as the Thermal Belt Rail Trail.

Plans for the WGST were authorized by the NC General Assembly in 2019, and layout and construction is expected to stretch into the future. As sections are built and receive official designation, they will become available for public use. Trail building takes time and funding. Though backcountry trails seem simple, they often take as long to design, plan, and construct as a building or an urban streetscape.

"Trail development is much like an iceberg in that the majority of it is not seen by most people," said Shane Prisby, Program Director of the Foothills Conservancy. "It is an intensive process of land acquisition, planning, fundraising, permitting, layout, and design. Construction is the last and most visible step in the process and gives only a hint of what lies beneath the surface."

The Foothills Conservancy is one of many trail partners working together to make the WGST a reality. Towns, municipalities, conservationists, and State Parks are all collaborating to execute the plan for the new trail.

As its name implies, the WGST will be a gateway from the towns of Hickory, Conover, Valdese, and Morganton to the scenic wilderness of western North Carolina. The trail will offer recreational opportunities for visitors from across the state and beyond, inviting everyone from long-distance backpackers to families looking for a day of adventure.

Visitors will notice a turtle emblazoned along the WGST trail. This icon pays homage to the Catawba tribe, because much of the trail crosses lands that are home to the Catawba people. Turtles are viewed by the Catawba as protectors of the land and - because state trails are built to conserve natural lands - the icon honors both the Catawba people and the symbolism of the turtle.

The WGST is the newest of 12 state trails in North Carolina - three of which cross through Rutherford County.

Hickory Nut Gorge State Trail (HNGST) - Once complete, HNGST will connect Chimney Rock State Park, Lake Lure, Upper Hickory Nut Gorge, Florence Nature Preserve, and other natural features and destinations. It will cover over 50 miles and offer recreation for hikers and mountain bikers. Approximately 17.6 miles of HNGST has been officially designated in Rutherford County. The HNGST is currently in the trail construction phase and is being developed in partnership with Conserving Carolina.

Image Credit: Conserving Carolina

Overmountain Victory State and National Historic Trail (OVST - OVNHT) - The OVNHT traverses 4 states and stretches roughly 330 miles. The trail is named for the path followed by the patriot militia who fought the battle of King's Mountain in 1780 - a battle that turned the tides of the Revolutionary War. The OVST encompasses the OVNHT trail sections that stretch 225 miles from Avery and Wilkes Counties through Mitchell, Caldwell, Burke, McDowell, and Rutherford Counties within North Carolina. The OVST is being developed in partnership with OVSTNC-Friends and the National Park Service.

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Rutherford County is home to some of the most stunning wilderness in North Carolina, from the 360-degree views of Chimney Rock to the serenity of Lake Lure to the rivers and mountains of the South Mountains. State Trails create access to this beautiful wilderness and conserve our natural lands and the wildlife that live there.

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