REI Co-op has announced $25,000 in grants for Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (Friends).

Tara Racine, REI’s Outdoor Programs and Outreach Coordinator for Central North Carolina said, “These grants will help conserve the trail’s route, including through two of its most remote and beautiful locations, and provide more up-to-date support information for hikers and the public.”

Linville Gorge and Pisgah National Forest. In those areas the MST follows trails or forest roads built many years ago.  They are badly compacted, wider than necessary and eroded.  They damage the environment and are difficult for volunteers to maintain by hand.  The grant funds will support a professional trail builder using a small backhoe to reshape the trail and create new water diversions to reduce the volume and velocity.  Once the machine work is done, volunteers will use hand tools to make repairs and build features that encourage plants to grow. The 4.4 mile section of trail is in some of the most rugged territory along the MST’s 1,175-mile route.

REI’s employees and customers in Charlotte are taking a lead role in the company’s volunteer efforts for this project. REI-Charlotte and Pineville stores are working to increase interest in the MST, which is just a few hours away from Charlotte. The grant was made under REI’s “Local Community Investment Partnership Plan”.  In addition to the grants, the Friends and REI will collaborate on in-store promotions of the MST.

Improving signage – Friends is undertaking a major project to improve signage for increasing awareness of the MST and encourage more trail use.  A grant will provide training and a manual for volunteers.

Update Trail Guides – The MST route shifts frequently and services for hikers open and close. The grants will be used to keep the website and trail guides up to date.

New tools and tool repairs – Each year more than 800 volunteers work 35,000 hours on the MST, much of it with heavy hand tools pounding against rock or shoveling. Funds will be used to repair and replace worn out, or broken tools.

“REI is a long-time partner with Friends. The company is making a real positive difference in our progress toward completion of the trail,” said Kate Dixon, Friends of the MST’s executive director.  “We greatly appreciate their on-going commitment to our organization and its goals in so many different ways.”

REI is the nation’s largest consumer co-op with more than 17 million members.  REI has 152 stores in 35 states and the District of Columbia. In addition to Charlotte and Pineville, REI has North Carolina stores in Asheville, Cary, Durham, Greensboro and Raleigh.

The MST goes from Clingmans Dome to Jockey’s Ridge on the Outer Banks. About 700 miles of the route—more than half the planned length—are currently on natural surface or greenway trail, unpaved forest roads, or beach. A series of connectors on bicycle routes, paddle routes, and backroads knits together finished sections to span the state. It goes through four national parks, two national wildlife refuges, ten state parks and three national forests.

Friends of the MST is a non-profit organization whose volunteers work more than 35,000 hours annually to build and maintain the trail.