Trails on TRACK
Hiking at Grandfather Mountain State Park can typically be
described as challenging and not for the faint of heart.
However, things are about to change for a small part of the rugged hiking location.
On June 6 at 3:30 p.m., the grand opening of the Grandfather Mountain TRACK Trail will take place in the Profile Trail parking lot. With more than 40 TRACK Trails already lining the ridges and hills of North Carolina, the Grandfather TRACK Trail will be the 84th to be opened in the entire United States.
TRACK Trails are part of the Kids in Parks program, created to help get childre back outdoors. TRACK Trails themselves are educational hikes designed specifically with children in mind in regards to trail difficulty, education and fun.
“We have a lot of trails, but mostly they’re very challenging,” Sue McBean, Grandfather Mountain State Park superintendent, said. “Some of them are even technical, with the ladders, cables and steep sections. So, this one mile of the Profile Trail is probably the easiest trail with a nice destination that we felt was appropriate for a TRACK Trail.”
Elise Kahl, project manager for Kids in Parks, will be at the opening ceremony June 6 and designed brochures to be placed at the trailhead. The brochures, placed at every TRACK trail location, include fun-filled activities to help children learn about things they see on the hike. And, so they aren’t left bamboozled by mysterious moss, parts of a fern or strange insects, some small explanations and information are included, as well.
“I think the TRACK Trail program is so unique, because it is a network of kid-friendly educational trails in all different types of parks, whether it’s national, state or county,” Kahl said. “We already have these wonderful resources around us, but this program helps connect them all together. And they’re fun. Whenever we’re working on a brochure or sticker, we want to make sure the whole experience is fun for the kids, because it’s a different way to exercise and be connected to the outdoors.”
Hikers of all ages enjoy the trails and beauty parks have to offer, but Kelly Safley, a park ranger at Elk Knob State Park, said the TRACK Trail brochures get the kids more involved during a hike and keep them interested.
“They have four they can choose from to keep kids busy instead of just walking,” Safley said. “It tells them a little about animals or plants, and then it involves them. They don’t just keep walking; they actually do something. It’s more hands-on type things. So, it’s a wonderful program.”
Jason Urroz, director of Kids in Parks and one of the original founders, said the TRACK Trails help keep both kids and parks healthy. As kids explore and win prizes for visiting different TRACK Trails and keeping journals, visitation to parks increase, and a certain respect for the parks is created amongst the younger generations.
“If kids and families aren’t in the parks today, in 20 to 30 years, when they’re voting age, what impact will that have on the parks?” Surroz said. “So, this is sort of a stewardship conservation for the future, as well as for the current and future health of the kids and families themselves.”
Connecting yet another dot on the expanding TRACK Trail map, the opening ceremony at Grandfather Mountain will include a ribbon cutting and ranger-led hikes down the trail.
“I think that anything that encourages kids to get outside and to explore nature is a positive thing,” McBean said. “So many of our trails are so difficult and challenging, and sometimes it’s hard for people to plan an event when they have their whole family or have children with them. The lower part of the Profile Trail is easy, and it may encourage people to explore that and bring their kids out, which is really important.”
For directions to the Profile Trail parking lot, visit http://goo.gl/maps/GESnd. Parking is limited, so carpooling is suggested. For more information on TRACK Trails and the Kids in Parks program, visit http://www.kidsinparks.com.