Written by Betsy Roznik, Associate Curator of Regional Conservation, North Carolina Zoo
Across the nation, thousands of miles of trails provide travel opportunities, preserve our natural and cultural history, and improve the health of our communities. On the first Saturday in June, National Trails Day is a celebration of our trails and a day of advocacy and trail service. It is marked by events across the nation that bring people together to build trails, maintain trails, or simply hike. It is an opportunity to gather with others to celebrate the trails we love.
The North Carolina Zoo protects more than 2,000 acres of land in the Piedmont of North Carolina for conservation, education, and recreation. These protected lands are on the Zoo property at Purgatory Mountain and several off-site nature preserves. These lands encompass a diversity of ecosystems, including some rare natural communities, such as old-growth longleaf pine forest, monadnock forest, and upland pools. The Zoo’s lands are home to native wildlife, and they also protect dispersal corridors used by bobcats, foxes, deer, songbirds, and other species.
The North Carolina Zoo has offered recreational opportunities to guests since opening its doors in 1974. The Zoo currently provides over six miles of trails accessible to the public—nearly five miles on the main Zoo property on Purgatory Mountain and 1.6 miles at Ridge’s Mountain Nature Preserve. These trails offer fantastic opportunities to get some fresh air and exercise while experiencing the unique biological, geological, and historical features encountered along the way.
The Zoo’s Trail Team (shown here) and many hard-working volunteers have contributed to hiking trails at the Zoo.
Over the next few years, the Zoo plans to increase opportunities to explore its protected areas by adding 12 miles to its trail systems. The Zoo’s Trail Team, made up of staff members from across the Zoo, is spearheading these efforts by building new trails and improving and maintaining existing trails. Some Trail Team members have completed specialized courses to design and build sustainable trails using hand tools and mechanized equipment.
The Zoo recently purchased a micro excavator to assist with trail construction, which is useful for working in the rugged, rocky terrain near the Zoo. The excavator comes in handy for clearing debris from the trail corridor, excavating the trail tread, and shaping the trail to ensure proper water runoff. Using this equipment reduces the amount of hard work that needs to be done by hand using rakes and hoes, which speeds up trail construction.
The Trail Team uses a micro excavator to help build and improve hiking trails.
The Zoo will participate in National Trails Day by hosting a grand opening celebration of the completed Purgatory Mountain Trail Network. This network began nearly 20 years ago with a single trail that followed an old logging road. Since then, the Zoo has expanded this network to nearly five miles, including 2.5 miles developed since 2019. Many hard-working staff and volunteers have helped make this possible, along with several grants that funded a professional trail builder. These trails are accessible at the North America Parking lot at no charge any day that the Zoo is open to the public.
The Zoo’s National Trails Day event will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 4, at the North America parking lot trailhead. At 10:30 a.m., several state and community leaders will address the value of trails, and volunteerism and recognize the many groups that have contributed time and resources to the trail network at the Zoo. A ribbon-cutting will follow, officially opening the trails for the day. Several staff naturalists will then lead guided hikes to share more about the natural and cultural history of the area. This event is open to all, and reservations are not necessary.
Join the Zoo on National Trails Day (June 4) to celebrate the grand opening celebration of the completed Purgatory Mountain Trail Network.
If you’re not able to join the Zoo for National Trails Day, there are plenty of other ways to celebrate. The most obvious way is to get out on a trail near you to connect with nature and get some fresh air and exercise. Bring your friends, and your dog, or take a solo adventure. Learn more about local plants and wildlife by joining a guided hike led by a naturalist. If hiking isn’t your thing, you can ride the trails on an off-road bike. National Trails Day is an excellent opportunity to give back to the trails you love by participating in a trail maintenance workday or cleaning up litter along your favorite trail. And finally, be sure to show your appreciation to those who make the trails possible. Happy Trails!