Zoo hooks up more hiking options

ASHEBORO — Another trail opened during the weekend as part of the North Carolina Zoo’s system and this one has a theme that might intrigue many folks in Randolph County.

The grand opening of the completed Purgatory Mountain Trail Network was held as part of Saturday’s National Trails Day.

A moonshining component was highlighted as part of the weekend hike. That seemed appropriate to Randolph County commissioner Hope Haywood.

“If we think about history and culture, the moonshine trail is also closely connected to another part of our culture, which is the pottery culture here,” she said. “Our potters got their start historically making jugs for moonshine. Certainly for food and food storage, but for moonshine. So that is all connected and makes me smile to think about it.”

National Trails Day is held the first Saturday of June. That’s particularly relevant in this part of North Carolina.

“This opportunity to not only celebrate what we have here at the Zoo, but across the state as it relates to trails,” said Jeff Michael, deputy secretary with Natural Resources for North Carolina. “We have come to recognize that trails are a unique part of our parks and recreation.”

Michael, who oversees the North Carolina Zoo in his role with Natural Resources, said it’s good to highlight the impact of the state’s parks and trails.

Several area politicians attended the opening of the new trail. Michael said he’s excited about the state legislature’s declaration for 2023 to be the “Year of the Trail.” That fits right in in what he hopes will bring awareness to trails when that campaign kicks off.

“The importance of our families getting out and enjoying these places,” he said. “Not just physical health, but our mental health.”

The Zoo has more than 6 miles of trails, with most of those on the Zoo property on Purgatory Mountain (and 1.6 miles at Ridge’s Mountain Nature Preserve). The Zoo has plans to extend its trail systems by 12 miles across the next several years.

“The time for trails is now,” Haywood said. “This is the time to press for getting those funds and to complete things that we’ve started.”

Haywood, who’s a regular trail hiker, said she appreciates the maintenance of trails in the area. Those duties are handled by many different organizations.

“It takes a lot, just not to build a trail, but to keep that maintained,” she said. 

Haywood said that makes it feasible to extend the trail system within Randolph County.

When Haywood is on trails, she said she’s prone to chat with fellow hikers.

“I meet more people from outside of Randolph County from inside Randolph County on our trails,” Haywood said, noting that’s not to diminish the numbers from within the county. “I am constantly amazed (at where people are coming from). … I love seeing the reach of the Zoo extended here. People are looking for what we have right here in Randolph County.”

These trails are accessible at the North America parking lot free of charge any day that the Zoo is open.

By Bob Sutton