Trail construction for another 1.1 mile of new trail at Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site in southern Johnston County is about to get underway! This will be the second new mile-long stretch of trail added to the MST at Bentonville in under two years. We thought you might enjoy a peek behind the curtain to see the work going on to make this happen. 

The new stretch is north of the existing trail system, stretching from Westbrook Lowgrounds Road and wandering southwards to a terminus at Bentonville Road. Bentonville Battlefield already owned this parcel, which alleviated the challenge of acquiring access through easement acquisition or land purchase, which in most cases is the most difficult, costly and time-consuming factor in building new trail. And a quick sidenote, the site managers at Bentonville do an amazing job of outreach to the local landowners, nurturing relationships for years that lead to additional land acquisition for the historic site.

This trail will be accessed from a parking lot at the Johnston’s Headquarters tour stop along Westbrook Lowgrounds Road. Having an existing parking lot at the northern trailhead is a bonus – it’s an amenity that we don’t have to build into the budget or scope of work. 

Next, our Complete the Trails Program (CTP) funding allows Friends of the MST and the staff at the battlefield to hire a professional trail builder to assess the unique qualities of the property and scout a sustainable and interesting route. We all wandered through thickets of briars with machetes and loppers in hand, passing soggy low sections and lovely old growth hardwoods. Our trail builder, Stewart Bryan of Native Trails, on a solo scouting mission even found an exceptional example of a “cat face” tree, a remnant from the naval stores industry, which we intend to showcase on the trail. Many are dotted through the landscape here, but this one made the site managers giddy. 

Once we had the route flagged, state archeologists visited the route to confirm that the trail will not negatively affect anything of historic nature. The site managers, Colby Stephens and Derrick Brown, assured us that while troops moved through this area, they didn’t linger long enough to leave much behind. As expected, the State Historic Preservation Office confirmed this and our route was approved! 

With all these necessary site approvals plus approval from the Friends’ board of directors, our staff created a scope of work to submit to our partners at NC State Parks. This was submitted about 2 weeks ago for this project, and now has been returned as a signed contract. Funds for the trail building can be released and work can begin, with the trail builder scheduled to start in July! Another side note, CTP funding is targeted to on-the-ground trail development and construction, not necessarily any of the preparation work needed to get us to the point where we’re ready for trail building, which is why support from our members is imperative to keep us moving forward on this and other trail projects. 

This new stretch just described follows another one mile of trail that opened in September of 2023, connecting the Cole Plantation through Bull Run, passing Union earthworks, moving one mile of MST off the road, and allowing battlefield visitors access to historic sites from the 1865 battle. 

Building trail at Bentonville is successful because our missions align so strongly. The site has land that needs trails for visitors to access the places where history happened. We can help build those trails, creating a safe and interesting trail. While moving the trail off-road is our priority, working in partnership with a historic site allows hikers to learn while they hike. 

Stay tuned for details on progress at Bentonville and for other trail projects across the state. To support this type of work, we encourage you to join Friends of the MST if you are not already a member and share your love for the trail with others!