Dear Friend of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail:
In February 2022, Kate Dixon retired after 15 years as Executive Director of Friends of the MST. To honor Kate for all she has accomplished for the trail and for Friends, the Board launched the Kate Dixon Legacy Campaign to provide a way for people who want to honor her to make a gift for the trail.
Kate came to Friends of MST in 2008 with extraordinary nonprofit and conservation experience. She had served eleven years as Executive Director of the Triangle Land Conservancy and then spent four years leading a significant NC partnership called Land for Tomorrow.
Friends of MST was a tiny organization at the time, and the MST was not well-known. But Kate tells me she was inspired by the vision for the trail and she knew she loved working with talented, passionate people to build a small nonprofit. She found that talent and passion in Jeff Brewer, our first board President, and other early leaders. Kate and the Board took a leap of faith, and we went from an all-volunteer organization to one with staff.
I’ve heard Jeff say that that was when Friends of MST “started cooking with gas!”
- When Kate started work Friends of MST was led by an avid, skilled group of trail workers. Kate says that one of her biggest accomplishments is that she hasn’t messed them up. That’s a true statement, but the trail crews have also grown tremendously in her time. The year before she started, MST volunteers worked about 13,000 hours. In 2019, they logged almost 34,000 and worked in eight more locations than they did before.
- Over 200 miles of off-road trail have been added, bringing the total off-road trail to 720 miles. Our longest continuous sections stretch 361 miles from Clingmans Dome through Stone Mountain State Park and 111 miles from the Orange/Durham County line to Clayton in the Triangle area.
- One of Kate’s biggest achievements has been the development of the Coastal Crescent route in Southeastern NC. No trail had been built in that part of the state for 30 years, and Kate worked with conservationists and community leaders to design a route that immediately opened 58 miles. Now Friends is working on plans to add an additional 106 miles.
- Under her leadership the Friends website expanded, google maps have been added, trail guides printed, the Day Hike Guide has come out – published by UNC Press no less. We hear regularly from grateful users that these are some of the best resources available for long-distance trails in the entire United States.
- Kate has recruited a talented, fun staff and helped them grow in their careers. The Board has varied skills and backgrounds and works together with joy and wisdom, and the organization is financially stable. Since Kate started our membership has grown from 67 to more than 2000.
- Our annual Gatherings have steadily outgrown their venues, and we move them around the state to showcase communities excited about the MST. We even organized more than 1700 people to collectively hike the entire 1175 miles of the trail on “MST in a Day” to celebrate the trail’s 40th birthday in 2017.
- Kate worked with colleagues from all over North Carolina to found the Great Trails State Coalition and convince the General Assembly to invest $29 million in the twelve official state trails, including the MST. This appropriation is the first significant state funding for these trails in North Carolina history.
It’s been quite a run, and we’re so thankful for Kate’s years of dedicated leadership.
I know that many of you have shared my experience of working with Kate. She welcomes people into the work – so that everything is a team effort. You take a simple first step, and suddenly – after talking to Kate – you find yourself engaged in the MST community.
If Kate’s work for the trail has meant a lot to you, I invite you to honor her work with a gift to the Legacy Campaign. We asked Kate how she would like to see gifts in her honor used. She suggested giving donors a choice between two funds (or letting us decide if you can’t choose):
- The MST Forever Fund – Friends recently established this fund for special projects to build and improve the physical trail. Example projects will include improving signage and installing kiosks, building bridges and boardwalks, even acquiring land and easements. An anonymous donor launched the fund with a gift of $200,000, and we’re seeking to add to that generous gift.
- The Coastal Crescent Fund – This fund helps cover the cost of trail design, community and landowner engagement, and volunteer training and support along the Coastal Crescent route of the MST in Southeastern North Carolina. Friends is working to build 106 new miles of trail in this special area.
I hope you will join me in a gift to the Legacy Campaign.
Finally, please plan to join us April 7-10, 2022 at the Gathering of Friends when Kate plans to say farewell. It will be a great time to celebrate the trail and Kate, welcome Brent Laurenz, our new Executive Director, and enjoy being together — in person — with other MST enthusiasts!