ORANGE COUNTY, N.C. — Outdoor organizations across the state are preparing for a big milestone in the new year. Next year is officially designated as the “Year of the Trail” in North Carolina.

It will mark 50 years since the North Carolina Trails System Act was signed, helping the state plan, develop and manage nature trails.

The Eno River Association is one organization that’s working to open a new trail just in time to celebrate the milestone.

What You Need To Know

  • 2023 is officially designated as the “Year of the Trail” in North Carolina

  • The new year will mark 50 years since the North Carolina Trails System Act was signed

  • The Eno River Association is working to open new Orange County trails just in time for this milestone

The Eno River Association’s trails in the Panther Branch Natural Area have been years in the making.

“We’re building a couple of miles of trails… for people to come and enjoy,” Kevin Reiner, a volunteer and board member with the Eno River Association, said. “Back in 2017, 2018, we were doing a lot of clearing. Now we’ve been focusing on trail building for the past couple of years, getting the parking lot and getting the gate set up, getting it ready for the public.”

Reiner is just one volunteer of many who bring new trail ideas to life, and he says it’s more work than one might expect.

“We have to be very mindful of like water runoff and drainage, finding the best areas to keep people safe as they’re walking, making sure there’s nothing overhanging. There’s a lot that goes into it. As you can see, there are a lot of people here working,” Reiner said.

The Panther Branch Natural Area trails are set to open to the public during the first quarter of 2023, which is the same year the Eno River State Park will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

As Reiner reflects on those milestones, he’s reminded why he originally became involved with the nonprofit.

“I mean, for me, I moved here about 10, 11 years ago. Hiking along the Eno has been a great solace for me since the time that I’ve been here. It’s so good to get out in the woods and clear your head and be in nature and [give] people the opportunity to do that, more opportunities to do that. I feel like it’s important,” Reiner said.

With 2023 designated as the “Year of the Trail” in North Carolina, it’s another opportunity to emphasize the importance of getting outdoors, as well as protecting and preserving it.

“During the pandemic, we saw heavy foot traffic on through the state park and on a lot of our properties. So I think opening this in the Year of the Trail is kind of a reminder to people of the health benefits that they may have seen during the pandemic and getting outside and just giving people another option to explore,” Reiner said.

The Eno River Association says major funding from corporate partners and volunteers has helped make these new trails possible.

Beyond opening these new trails, the Eno River Association is also planning other ways for people to get involved in celebrating these milestones.

The nonprofit is hoping to announce those initiatives in time for the new year.