PHOTOS BY ROBIN SHUPE
Happy New Year, LKN readers!
The beginning of any new year is a time of reflection and also a time to set intentions and goals for the upcoming year as we travel the continuous path to becoming our best selves! This column, previously known as the NC State Parks column, is also evolving, with the new name Joyful Journey! Although the articles on the diverse and “Naturally Wonderful” state parks will continue with more of my favorite inspirational quotes, there will be stops along the way and current information that will generate more opportunities to get into nature and enjoy what the region and state have to offer. The name was conceived through the sense of pure joy that the exploration of these glorious parks has brought to me during my journey thus far. To set the tone for the year to come, the following information will, hopefully, pique your curiosity and interest enough to set your own intention to get out and explore the rich diversity our state has to offer.
The State of North Carolina has also set new intentions this year and wants to improve the lives of North Carolinians through support and partnerships with state and local agencies that strive to better the quality of life for its citizens. NC has officially designated 2023 as the Year of the Trail, with a goal of boosting awareness of trails and trail use across the state.
Officials chose the year 2023 because it is the 50th anniversary of the 1973 North Carolina Trails System Act. This act created the state’s Trails Program, which today is part of the Division of Parks and Recreation and is assisted by the NC Trails Committee and NC State Parks. The decision by state lawmakers to spotlight trails by designating the “Year of the Trail” highlights the vital role outdoor recreation plays in tourism, economic development, health and transportation for the state and its residents.
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” –John Muir
The pandemic put a spotlight on mental health that was much more penetrating than we had previously seen, and the role that being outdoors plays in positive mental health is well documented. A 2008 Scottish Health Survey found that anything from a stroll in the park to a run through a woodland can have a positive effect on people suffering from depression and anxiety. The study also showed that the positive effect on people’s mental health was 50 percent more than they can expect from going to the gym.
Research suggests that mere contact with the natural world improves psychological health. Outdoor settings have been shown to relieve feelings of anxiety and improve our ability to cope with stressful situations. Natural sunlight and being outdoors also improves cognitive function, mood and work performance. These reasons are valid incentives to spend more time outdoors with family and friends.
In the Lake Norman area, the Carolina Thread Trail is a regional network of trails that connect almost three million people in 15 counties over North and South Carolina. According to their website, carolinathreadtrail.org, the Carolina Thread Trail is an unprecedented regional collaboration that works to connect people and communities to nature and each other through over 1,500 miles of trails and greenways. Through collaboration with the Catawba Lands Conservancy, the Carolina Thread Trail works to promote economic development, citizen education, improved health and land conservation.
From the towering sand dunes of Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks to Clingmans Dome – the highest peak in Great Smoky Mountains National Park the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is a 1,175-mile trek from one end of the state to the other. According to visitnc.com, “the trails and waterways take you from the most visited national park to the first national seashore, crossing tribal lands and small towns; hardwood and maritime forests; and more parks, preserves, greenways and footpaths than you can count as you make your way across the state. Day-hike options abound as well.”
With 2023 declared Year of the Trail in NC, now is the perfect time to paddle, hike or bike your way to outdoor bliss and scenic adventures, whether locally or to destinations further from home. The photos in this article represent a small sample of the trails I have visited this past year, and the alluring beauty of these parks and trails inspires me daily to continue this joyful journey!
Have a safe and blessed New Year!