Register now for the Gathering of Friends, March 26-29, 2020, a weekend of camaraderie, festivities and the latest MST news in Surf City.  When we last gathered here in March of 2019, the area looked a little rough, as recovery from Hurricanes Florence and Matthew was still underway.  We’re thrilled that Surf City is back – homes and businesses restored, debris cleared with new paint gleaming.  Besides the yearly Friends meeting on Saturday, the rest of the weekend will be filled with excursions that showcase the treasures along the Coastal Crescent trail.

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We kick off the weekend with a series of hikes scheduled progressively through the Coastal Crescent route on Thursday as you drive in, and again on Sunday as you leave.  This coincides with the launch of the 40-Hike Challenge and the release of our new trail guide in March 2020, Great Hikes on North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail.  We want you to hike them all – and to help you to conquer many of the hikes with ease and speed, we’ll host hikes along the way to and from the Gathering.  Full details are being ironed out on the Challenge itself, and will be confirmed early in 2020.  (Great Hikes is available for pre-order at a discounted price of $18 when you register or later at the merchandise table for $21.60, a 10% discount from list price – see more about the guide below.)

We’ve also been given a very special opportunity on Friday to tour Camp LeJeune. At 246 square miles with 11 miles of beaches, Camp LeJeune is the largest Marine base in the Eastern US.  The base is a conservation leader, restoring natural habitat and protecting endangered species in the Onslow Bight.  Our guide will be Craig Ten Brink, Camp LeJeune’s Wildlife Biologist. This tour will give you a unique opportunity to learn more about the Onslow Bight ecosystem and to see what the base is doing to protect it.

Other highlights include a Friday evening reception and a casual dinner at the historic Missiles and More Museum and Assembly Building.  The Assembly Building was constructed in 1946 and was used by the government to assemble missiles for a secret operation being conducted on Topsail Island.  Explore exhibits on the natural history of Topsail Island, the development of the Osprey helicopter, the significance of Operation Bumblebee and the groundbreaking Women Airforce Service Pilots.  A short program honoring all those who make the trail possible – volunteers, hikers, trail communities and Friends’ supporters – will wrap up the reception.  After that, time for some optional retro fun!  The brave can go for a skate at the 1960’s era Topsail Island Rollerskating Rink (watch this piece for NC Weekend if you need convincing) and the smart can have a go at mini golf at the original 1950’s Putt Putt, Patio Playground.

After the annual meeting on Saturday, we’ll have more excursions, including hikes at Stones Creek and Holly Shelter and tour of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.  We will again hike the “newish” Surf City Bridge as a group at sunset on Saturday evening (above shot of 2019 group taken by drone, and courtesy of Kevin McCauley.) Sunday will open with the Pancake Breakfast to benefit Paddle 4 Troops and then we’re off to hike and paddle some more!

We’re locking down the details, and excursions will open up for registration by mid-January.

You’ll note on registration that we’re offering a reusable silicon pint cup from Silipint (with or without lid).  Please consider ordering one to cut down on waste at the Gathering.  If we have extras after the Gathering, they will be on the online store. 

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