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Wednesday, 09 January 2008 00:00

At the helm: New director aims to complete the Mountains to Sea Trail

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By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer

The Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail hope its first-ever executive director will be able to complete the missing lengths in the footpath that runs the breadth of the Tar Heel state.

Kate Dixon, who has a long history in land conservation in North Carolina, will start her new job this week.

“I am really excited about the trail itself, and it’s an opportunity to work with an organization that has done such good work,” Dixon said.

The trail, still a work in progress, will be more than 900 miles long once completed, starting at Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and ending at Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks.

Right now more than 475 miles of the trail has been completed, but the organization still has 425 miles to build.

“We are bringing things up to a new level (with the hiring of Dixon),” said Jeff Brewer, FMST president. “We just see a need to have her come on board to acquire new land and more money.”

Since the late 1990s the group has been trying to complete the vision of connecting Western North Carolina’s mountains to the Atlantic Ocean by a hiking trail. The Friends have had some setbacks with acquiring right-of-way easements from property owners in the central and eastern part of the state. The Friends group hopes Dixon’s vast knowledge of conservation practices will assist with the trail’s completion.

Dixon will be responsible for obtaining trail access on private lands and will work diligently with various land conservancy groups in the Raleigh to coastal regions to promote land conservation.

It has been estimated that in the next five to seven years all public lands — especially those located along the coast — will be privately held, Brewer explained.

As Dixon starts her job, she will begin working immediately to get access to tracts in the eastern corridor. Her prior experience will be beneficial in doing that. Her last job was as director for the Land for Tomorrow Conservancy, a statewide organization that promotes the increase in land conservation throughout the state. She also worked for 11 years at the Triangle Land Conservation, a Raleigh-based land trust organization.

Dixon has lived in North Carolina since the early 1990s. She moved to North Carolina after graduating from the University of Arizona where she earned a masters degree in watershed management.

Becoming part of the Mountains-to-Sea organization will continue to fulfill Dixon’s desire to protect the environment.

Dixon is also an avid hiker and just this past month hiked Clingmans Dome. “The mountain part of the trail is so wonderful,” she said.

The portion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in the western part of the state is pretty much completed. “The western part was the first to come together,” Brewer said. The organization is working with officials at the Blue Ridge Parkway to complete two small gaps — one is from Blowing Rock to N.C. 16 along the parkway. According to Brewer, this 30-mile segment of the trail is currently being built.

One of the most recent segments that opened to the public in October is from N.C. 16 to N.C. 18 east of Boone. This trail segment is 15.1 miles long and the trailhead for this section is located near Doughton Park.

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