State park debuts new TRACK kids’ trail

Hikers are able to spot deer and other wildlife from a naturally canopied overlook midway through the trail.

At trail’s end, hikers watch soaring turkey vultures and take in the expansive view of the surrounding area before making their way back up the trail.

Aided by Pilot Mountain State Park Ranger Jesse Anderson, a group of youngsters gather at the trailhead to cut the ribbon for the grand opening of the park’s new TRACK Trail.

Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation representative Willa Mays displays some of the Trail TRACKer Gear which can be purchased with the points kids earn from hiking the TRACK trails.

Park Ranger Jesse Anderson shows kids how to tell from a stump how much time has past since the last fire burned over the site.

PILOT MOUNTAIN — Pilot Mountain State Park celebrated National Get Outdoors Day in fitting fashion Saturday, hosting a group of visiting youngsters and their parents for the grand opening of its new TRACK (Trails, Ridges and Caring Kids) Trail.

Funded by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, the .3-mile trail is specifically designed to be enjoyed by kids and their families.

“This trail is easy in difficulty,” said Park Ranger Jesse Anderson, “and it has some great views of Pilot Mountain. A new overlook has been installed that has access to tree canopy.”

A large marker at the trailhead, located at the northeast end of the parking area, identifies the trail as a TRACK trail. According to the sponsoring Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, each TRACK trail provides kids with a self-guided adventure, telling a story through the use of provided brochures. A trio of brochures was offered at the Pilot Mountain State Park trail.

An “Animal Athletes” brochure offers a series of exercises in which children can replicate the motions of animals in order to warm up for their hike.

Another interactive brochure helps kids identify Lichens along the trail, allowing hikers to check off the types as they are found and providing informative photos and descriptions.

A third brochure, this one designed specifically for Pilot Mountain, is entitled “Fire on the Mountain.” The literature discusses fire ecology, including how fires can benefit a forest and how hikers can tell if there has been a fire in the forest. Youngsters can use the brochure to check off signs of a previous fire along the trail as well as learning the benefits of prescribed burning.

Literature and the trailhead signage also encourage kids to register each TRACK trail adventure completed to earn an assortment of Trail TRACKer Gear. Hikers may register through the website.

Representative Willa Mays of the Blue Ridge Foundation introduced the new TRACK Trail at Saturday’s grand opening, providing youngsters with an assortment of healthy snacks, drinks and other promotional items.

Mays noted the Kids in Parks TRACK Trail program began in 2009 with a purpose of getting kids outside and active, while engaging them with the parkway. Since its introduction, she noted, the program has seen the start of more than 130 trails in seven states, with a waiting list of about 60 additional trails.

An enthusiastic group of young park visitors then joined Park Ranger Anderson to officially open the trail with a ribbon cutting. Rangers, kids and parents followed the trail over its course, following the route of the existing Sassafras Trail, and back to the trailhead.

An overlook midway through the trail proved an ideal vantage point for spotting wildlife, with several hikers seeing deer. The naturally canopied overlook also provided an excellent view of the mountain.

At trail’s end, hikers were treated to an expansive view of the geography around the mountain along with soaring turkey vultures riding on rising air currents from the mountain.

“This can provide a source of interpretation for things in the park when a ranger isn’t on hand,” Anderson explained. “It’s a great opportunity for kids to enjoy trail information and interaction.”

Dean Palmer may be reached at 336-351-4131 or

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