(photo by Stephanie Barnhill Neal)

Despite the rain, nearly 40 people joined Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail at Jones Lake State Park and Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest in Bladen County on February 17 for a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of a new bridge and a new section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in Segment 13.

The new bridge was constructed with funding from the Complete the Trails Fund. As part of the 2021 North Carolina budget, the Complete the Trails Funds marks a significant investment in trails by the State of North Carolina and provides much-needed funds for our 12 official state trails, including the MST. Funding from this program will allow us to improve and expand the Mountains-to-Sea Trail all across the state.

Aside from Friends of the MST, speaking at the ribbon cutting ceremony were:

  • Jonathan Langston, president of the Elizabethtown-White Lake Chamber of Commerce
  • Mike O’Neill, Friends of the MST volunteer who contributed many hours to help build the new bridge
  • Hans Rohr, Forest Supervisor for Bladen Lakes State Forest
  • Carrie McCullen, Forest Supervisor for Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest
  • Senator Brent Jackson (District 9 — Bladen, Duplin, Jones, Pender, Sampson counties)

Everyone spoke about what an asset the MST can be for the local community and Bladen County, and we were honored to have Senator Jackson join us as a strong supporter of trails and conservation at the General Assembly.

We’re also thankful for our partners at State Parks and all they do for the MST, trails and our state.

Celebrating our first Complete the Trails Fund project in Bladen County was fitting because southeastern North Carolina, along the Coastal Crescent route of the MST, is where much of the future growth and development of the trail will happen. Moving forward, we plan to complete a number of exciting projects along this corridor to continue to shift the MST off-road and create more outdoor recreation opportunities for local communities.

We are so thankful to everyone who joined us to help celebrate the new bridge and for all those who worked so hard to get the bridge from an idea to reality!