NC Mountains-to-Sea Trail Prepares for 14 Miles of More Trails in Orange County

Riverwalk in Hillsborough.


By Laurie Paolicelli

Save the Date! Friday night, October 8th at Steel String Brewery’s Pluck Farm Outdoor Event for Mountains to Sea Trail

For most Hillsborough residents, it’s hard to remember a time before the Riverwalk. Stretching a little less than two miles along the banks of the Eno River, the trail connects Gold Park in west Hillsborough to the eastern part of town, including the downtown district. Although the first phase of the Riverwalk opened a little more than 10 years ago, it’s already been cemented into the fabric of the community.

While the Riverwalk itself is fairly new, the land it encompasses is home to a storied history. In the 1800s, a stretch of it was used by early citizens for transportation and socialization. Even further back in time, the same paths were frequented by Native Americans as a popular trading route.

Now, the Riverwalk has taken on a new history, and a new level of popularity and leaders with the North Carolina Mountains-to-Sea Trail hope that the next 14 miles of trails in Orange County become as popular as Hillsborough’s Riverwalk.

Yes, the Riverwalk is part of North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which traverses the state from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks. Each year scores of backpackers and hikers start at the trail’s western endpoint, Clingman’s Dome, and end at the trail’s eastern endpoint of Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head.

The most common access point for the Hillsborough Riverwalk is the public parking deck adjacent to Weaver St. Market near downtown Hillsborough.

Former Chapel Hill Mayor Howard Lee is considered the “father” of the 1,200-mile trail, as he first proposed the idea in 1977 as secretary of what is now the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Howard Lee, former Chapel Hill Mayor and Mountains-to-Sea Trail advocate

“We are so proud of our success. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail allows you to get out and commune with nature,” Lee said. “To be able to get out here and see the trees and the flowers and to be able to see the animals and the natural areas is just so relaxing and so soothing. The trails are an ideal way to escape from the pressures of today’s uncertainties and relax and feel human again.”

“There’s been significant progress in Orange County that now lets us build 14 miles of new trails,” said Kate Dixon, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. To announce details, leaders will host a fundraising event at the future MST route at Steel String Brewery’s new Pluck Farm at 6901 NC 54 West, on Friday night, October 8, 6pm. The event hosts are Steel String Brewery and Great Outdoor Provision Company.

The below map shows yellow dots that illustrate the new trails, which include about 7 miles in Eno River State Park with plans for a new bridge at Pleasant Green Road that is pedestrian friendly and that allows for an extended trail up through the Eno River State Park. The second area for a new trail is from Gold Park west to the Seven Mile Creek Preserve. “Our team has already started work to construct the trail in this area through Occoneechee Mountain Natural Area, which is about 4 miles and we estimate we’ll have the trail completed to connect to Seven Mile Creek in three years.”

Dixon said the final area is in the Cane Creek Reservoir area. “Private landowners have promised easements that are to be recorded by the spring. We will be proposing a trail route for OWASA review and approval, and we hope we can start building in 2022. This trail will be about 3 miles long.”

Trails on the MST can have significant economic impact. Hillsborough’s Riverwalk is a great example. Visitors to Hillsborough have discovered the trail and come to town to use it and then go to restaurants, shop, or even stay overnight.

But the most important benefits of the trail are the enjoyment it brings to users and the community it builds.

For more information about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, or for questions on how to join the event, contact Kate Dixon at (919) 698-9024 or email

PLUCK FARM owned by Steel String Brewery of Carrboro

Everyone is Invited to Join the Fun on October 8th

Steel String Brewery’s Pluck Farm Outdoor Event for Mountains-to-Sea Trail

Friday, October 8 from 6 pm – 9 pm

On the future MST route at Steel String Brewery’s new Pluck Farm at 6901 NC 54 West, Mebane NC

  • Live bands including Love & Valor and Fair to Middlin’
  • Craft brews, wine, cider and non-alcoholic drinks (Steel String will donate 10% of all sales to Friends of the MST)
  • Food truck dining

For more information, visit:

Tickets are free, suggested donation of $50 or more per attendee. Registration is required. Register for the event here.

Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.

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2 Comments on "NC Mountains-to-Sea Trail Prepares for 14 Miles of More Trails in Orange County"

  1. I love biking and love the idea of the MST, but to maximize the economic impact through Orange County, the MST should head south from Hillsborough to Chapel Hill and Carrboro, then West along Hwy 54 to Saxapahaw.

  2. I like the proposed route. Rather than economic impact, I would like to see the enjoyment of the trail and rural areas emphasized.

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