Article Published: Sep. 20, 2012 | Modified: Sep. 20, 2012
One week ago, the Summit Trail’s start point at Elk Knob State Park was the standard brown board with white letters – “Summit Trail 1.9miles.”
It marked the tingly hike up several switchbacks that unfurls into an aching view.
But on Monday, Sept. 17, rangers at Elk Knob staked in an additional sign. It shows a colorful animation of the park, a basset hound named “Track” and a dragonfly named “Kip.” It marks the start of the kids’ “TRACK Trail.”
Elk Knob is the fourth state park to establish the short miler for specifically for kids.
Saturday, Sept. 22, at 11 a.m. will be the TRACK Trail designation and ribbon cutting. The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation will give a short talk, and a ranger will guide a half-mile hike up the trail and the half-mile walk back down.
“It’s so important for kids to get unplugged from electronics and get out into nature,” Elk Knob State Park superintendent Larry Trivette said. “When they see new things out here, they get so excited. It’s great to see them get curious. That curiosity is one of the most important things about out here.”
Trivette recalled a solitary view of the sunset from sand dunes on the Outer Banks, one of his most awe-filled moments. He hopes visitors, particularly kids, will feel the same connection and respect at Elk Knob.
Elk Knob volunteer, seasoned hiker and retired educator Brenda Sigmon suggested the TRACK Trail idea to the state park during work on the recently completed Summit Trail. Her initiative was to confront childhood obesity. Trivette’s is to educate. The TRACK Trail does both.
While the TRACK Trail hike is only a mile, a small section of the trail, it is steep. The gravel gulley snakes between big rocks and easily into a cloud.
The peak is 5,520 feet above sea level. In Watauga County, it is second in elevation only to Grandfather Mountain’s Calloway Peak, the bridged rock only reached through a canyon of a trail and vertical ladders.
As for education, tacked into the new TRACK Trail sign are four plastic slots for pamphlets of information that map out trail related activities.
The “Animal Athletes” brochure has pictures of animals, like a Sharp-shinned hawk; their typical movements, like the hawk’s heat conserving one-leg perch; and a kid-sized corresponding exercise, like balancing on one leg.
The “Hide and Seek” brochure has photos of easily overlooked spiders, poison ivy and lichen.
Brochures more specific to Elk Knob are “Nature’s Relationships: Everything’s connected” and “Bug Out.”
“Nature’s Relationships” has 12 check boxes for scenes like storm-damaged trees, mycelium and “Turkey Trail” fungi. It describes how a dead tree can be home to a live animal, how frogs are indicator species of an environment’s health, and our inseparable relationship to the land.
“Bug Out” shows diagrams of a spider and a bee, more check boxes and species to avoid, like the black widow and the brown recluse.
“Then, because they’re online anyway, kids can keep an online journal about their trip and register their adventure to win prizes from the (Blue Ridge) Parkway Foundation,” Trivette said.
He says that for now, the TRACK Trail is a part of the Summit Trail, but in the future the state park will construct a separate one-mile loop.
At least 10 total TRACK Trails have been built in the U.S. In 2008, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation invested $701,000 in the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation for a nationwide TRACK Trail program expansion.
The first one was built adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway’s headquarters in Asheville.
The other state park TRACK Trails are located at New River, Chimney Rock and Mt. Jefferson.
Trivette again thanked the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation for its support. “Hopefully, this is the start of a trend,” he said.