By Kate Dixon, Jim Grode and Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail
This 90-mile segment takes MST travelers through the Onslow Bight, formed where the coast makes a shallow bend or “bight” between Cape Lookout and Cape Fear. With its barrier islands, marshes, riverine wetlands, pocosins, and longleaf pine savannas, the Onslow Bight is considered one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the United States. These natural communities provide habitat for rare plants and animals, including several species that are found nowhere else in the world. The pocosins and longleaf pine forests are critical habitat for nesting and foraging Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, while the delicate barrier islands are essential habitat for sea turtle and water bird nesting.
Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base and the city of Jacksonville lie in the center of this segment. Much of the MST route from Sneads Ferry through Jacksonville follows roads that skirt the massive base. Hikers will see plenty of signs of the military presence—from people in uniform, to military vehicles, to signs along the highway.
The area is one of the primary conservation priorities for groups like The Nature Conservancy, North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC), and many other government and nonprofit agencies. Camp Lejeune provides major support for these efforts by funding conservation and by managing land on the base to enhance native habitat.