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Happy National Trails Day: Update from the Trail Team!

Happy National Trails Day: Update from the Trail Team!

Happy National Trails Day: Update from the Trail Team!

Written by Betsy Roznik, Associate Curator of Regional Conservation, North Carolina Zoo

Taking place on the first Saturday of every June, National Trails Day is an opportunity to get together to celebrate the trails we love. Events are held nationwide that bring people together to go hiking or do trail maintenance. And there couldn't be a better time to celebrate since 2023 has been designated as North Carolina's Year of the Trail—the largest statewide celebration of trails and outdoor recreation in our state's history. 

Protecting land for conservation, education, and recreation has always been an essential part of the mission of the North Carolina Zoo. The Zoo protects over 2,000 acres of land on its main property and three off-site nature preserves. Over 8 miles of hiking traverse these lands, including 5 miles on Purgatory Mountain (at the Zoo), 1.6 miles at Ridges Mountain Nature Preserve, and 1.7 miles (so far!) at Ward Nature Preserve. These trails offer opportunities to get some fresh air and exercise and enjoy the natural communities protected on these lands. 

Pictured Above: Grace Sigmon, AmeriCorps member and Trail Team member, installs a trail marker along the new trail. 

Over the next few years, the Zoo plans to add 10 miles to its trail systems. Trails are built and maintained by the Trail Team, a group of Zoo staff that dedicate 2-4 days per month for trail work, along with volunteers assisting for at least one day. All trails are designed to be sustainable, have as little environmental impact as possible, and require minimal maintenance over time. Therefore, planning a new route first involves carefully examining topography, water bodies, and points of interest on maps. Once on the ground, the route is finalized by considering trees, rocks, and other features. Next, trail workers clear debris from the trail corridor, excavate the trail tread and shape the trail to ensure proper water runoff. Most work uses hand tools, such as rakes and hoes, with occasional assistance from mechanized equipment on difficult sections. 

Drilling a screw in a newly constructed bridge

In September 2022, the Trail Team began construction on the Spring Trail on the Ward Nature Preserve. This preserve protects 323 acres of forested land at the headwaters of Bachelor Creek, just south of the Zoo. This property was purchased in 2010 with the intent to make it a nature preserve to protect the natural communities in this corridor and provide opportunities for education and recreation. The mature hardwood forest is brimming with wildlife, including a diversity of songbirds, box turtles, and white-tailed deer. 

In the photo, Nicholas Barlow, Zoo staff and Trail Team member, secures the deck on a new footbridge. 


Zoo staff and volunteers have recently completed the first phase of the Spring Trail. This is a 1.7-mile loop with two footbridges that offer scenic views of the meandering creek and fern-covered slopes. Hardworking volunteers from Uwharrie Charter Academy, Covanta, and IDEXX have assisted with building this trail and removing over one ton of litter from the property. The Spring Trail loop will be open to the public during guided hikes and special events until the entire trail is completed. During the second phase of trail construction, a new segment will join the new trail loop with the Zoo. 


Pictured Above: Volunteers from Uwharrie Charter Academy use fire rakes to build a new section of the trail. 

On Saturday, June 3, we hope you can get outdoors and celebrate National Trails Day on a trail near you! Go for a hike, get on your bike, clean up some litter, or join a trail maintenance workday. Please join us at our tabling event outside the North America admission entrance from 10:30 AM until 2:00 PM. Everyone is invited to stop by the booth to learn more about nearby trails and explore the five miles of the Purgatory Mountain Trails, which are free of charge and accessible at the North America parking lot any day that the Zoo is open to the public.