In January, Gov. Roy Cooper proclaimed 2023 the Year of the Trail in North Carolina. The effort to pass the proclamation was led by the Great Trails State Coalition, a group of organizations, agencies and supporters advocating for increased state investment in all types of trails.
The Year of the Trail campaign aims to spread information about how and where to experience trails that showcase North Carolina’s landscapes, provide healthy recreation and stimulate local economies.
“We really wanted to share stories and just create content that can help all people feel welcome on trails because trails really are for all,” Palmer McIntyre, the Year of the Trail director, said. “We're not the ones fixing the challenges, but we're trying to lift up great examples of inspiration, of groups and activities and projects.”
Despite the group's best efforts, and for all the undeniable benefits the outdoors pose, not everyone can even use public trails, much less feel welcome on them.
Accessibility and inclusivity challenges — ranging from pathways that aren't wide enough for a wheelchair to the lack of safe and easily reachable outdoor spaces — can impact engagement with nature.
According to a paper published in March 2022 in the North Carolina Medical Journal, exposure to green space can benefit mental health in a variety of ways, reducing the severity of stress, depression and anxiety disorders.
The outdoor economy in North Carolina generates $28 billion in spending every year and contributes $10 billion annually to the state’s GDP, according to the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.
“There's a lot of work to do, but we're making progress,” McIntyre said. “I hope everyone will get inspired to try trails because it's a great way to explore North Carolina's landscapes and different communities.”
Wes Hall, the co-founder of North Carolina Adapted Sports was just 15 years old when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, leading to the amputation of his right leg.