Friday, January 8, 2010

An Interview With Arthur Kelley - Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail (FMST)

Arthur Kelley, a volunteer with the Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail (FMST), recently sat down with Durhamblogger to answer some questions. (DUAC): "Give some of your background and experience with the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST). How did you get involved with this organization? What interested you the most about MST?"

Arthur Kelley: "In about 2002, at about age 45, after doing a variety of other things for exercise, I decided to start taking long walks. I started on the Raleigh Greenway system, but found it to be too crowded and it wasn't the relaxing experience I was looking for. Besides, long walks on asphalt hurt my feet. I had always heard of the Falls Lake Trail (FLT) and had seen a couple of the trail heads at various locations. Since it was on dirt (what I've since learned to call a "natural surface footpath") and out in the woods I gave it a try.

One section I hiked had a sign about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and a website address So I found out that the Falls Lake Trail is one component of the North Carolina Mountains to Sea Trail (MST) which is supported by the nonprofit Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail (FMST). FMST holds regularly scheduled trail maintenance workdays and I showed up for one of those and that started my involvement.

I found out that the MST is a long-distance hiking trail similar in concept to its more famous older sibling the Appalachian Trail (AT). The MST runs about 1000 miles through the entire length of the state with its western end at Clingman's Dome on the NC/TN border in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its eastern end at Jockey's Ridge State Park on the Atlantic Ocean. More trail is being constructed all the time, but at the present the MST is about half finished. Footpath sections like the FLT are stitched together with road sections to form the complete MST.

The Falls Lake Trail runs in a government-owned corridor on the south bank of Falls Lake which is just north of Raleigh and serves as Raleigh's water supply and flood control for those downstream on the Neuse River. When I started hiking, the FLT ran about 25 miles from NC-50 at Falls Lake to the Falls Dam Tailrace on Falls of the Neuse Road. I hiked it almost every weekend for several months and then began exploring other hiking opportunities in the region. There's Umstead State Park in Raleigh, Eno River State Park and West Point on the Eno in Durham (also part of the MST), and further away, there's the Neusiok Trail in Croatan National Forest (also part of the MST) and the Uwharrie Trail in Uwharrie National Forest.

Then I began to look for other hiking opportunities. I've hiked some of the Appalachian Trail but it's hard to get to from Raleigh so I decided to try and find some more of the MST. At that time, there were various print resources but the website didn't have much specific information on the trail itself, so I volunteered to take on a project to address that need. Aside from the exercise, this gave me a reason to explore the entire trail. Being an electrical engineer, it came naturally to hike the MST carrying a GPS to take coordinates of the trail route and trail heads. I figured putting these on the website would make it easier for people to find the trail. My unofficial motto was "Getting Lost So You Don't Have To". I did do some getting lost.

DUAC: "How did your interest in GPS mapping come about? How do you technically translate GPS coordinates into a detailed topographical map? Do you have any GPS device (brands / models) recommendations for folks who like to hike and paddle?"

Arthur Kelley: "I got a Garmin GPSmap 76CSx for Christmas in 2006 and it's what I've used ever since. It's worked pretty well for me and seems to do a reasonably good job even when it's cloudy or I'm under the trees. I haven't really shopped around since I got it so I can't give too much comparative advice about the newer units. All I can say is I've found no reason to replace it. Newer models have touch screens, wireless connectivity and cameras. We may be at the point where they've stopped adding useful features and are well into featuritis but I don't know.

You connect the GPS to your computer using a USB cable and upload the data. My main program for making maps was MacGPS Pro. It uses the USGS 7.5' topo maps which are familiar to most hikers and not subject to copyright which is important since I wanted to publish the maps. Unfortunately, all MacGPS Pro can do is draw a line on a topo map representing the location of the trail. From there it turned out to be really time consuming to turn out usable maps. I naively thought that hiking and taking the data would be the physically challenging but fun part. It turns out that I can hike about 2 mph and I can map about 2 mph. I won't bore you with the technical details but to get everything divided up into by 8.5"x11" sheets with labels and annotated road names, mileages, etc., etc. turned out to be a big job that I finally finished in June of 2009.

Locally, new trail is being constructed all the time. In Raleigh, a team I'm on is extending the FLT westbound along the south shore of Falls Lake and the Eno River from the previous western end at NC-50 all the way to Penny's Bend on the Eno River downstream from Durham. At this point the new trail extends almost to Red Mill Road and will reach Penny's Bend in late 2010 or early 2011. In late 2006, a team constructed trail about 1.5 miles from West Point on the Eno River at NC-501 downstream to River Forest Park. In the not too distant future, the trail at River Forest Park will link up to Penny's Bend and you'll be able to walk from Durham to Raleigh without ever getting on the road except to cross it.

Going west in Durham, you can already walk from West Point on the Eno to the Pump Station Section of Eno River State Park. In 2009, trail construction started to link the Pump Station Section to the Cabe Lands section. Eventually, you'll be able to walk the entire length of the Eno River State Park and then westward up the Eno to Hillsborough. Similar trail planing and building is taking place all over the state. Building the trail often turns out to be the easy part. Finding a corridor on public lands and then getting approval often turns out to be the more difficult part."

DUAC: Finally, what do you want folks to remember about MST?"

Arthur Kelley: "What do I want people to remember? Here are my maps of the MST.

The trail is now easy to find. I want people to remember it's there and to go use this incredible resource. A disused trail disappears. Sections 25 and 26 are closest to Raleigh and Durham.

All the trail construction is done by volunteers. I want people to remember we need their help. Here is a list of the statewide workdays

Not only do we need help building new trail, but we need help maintaining existing trail. Mother Nature tries to take it back pretty quickly. Here are some photos of what a November rainstorm and high water did to one of our bridges. are now formulating plans for its replacement.

As we work to finish the trail, I also want people to remember that we need their help when the subject of the trail comes up for consideration in their community especially when it comes to approving new corridor. Finally, whether hiking or volunteering, I want people to have great memories of participating with the MST. I do and I plan to make more."

DUAC: "MST is an important project to help preserve and raise awareness of protecting our green space. Thank you again Arthur for sharing this information with Durhamblogger readers."


  1. If you'll allow me a small commercial announcement, for those who want to help, there are MST work days coming up.

    January 16 - Falls Lake Trail

    January 23 - Eno River State Park


  2. Hi Arthur! No worries on the "commercial" plug. I hope the interview raised both MST awareness and participation! Happy trails to you... ;-)

  3. Also Arthur - feel free to utilize the Durhamblogger Forum (right nav bar)to leave a short notice about the MST work days! Currently, I'm the only one using it... but it is available to all Durhamblogger readers! Readers can "check in" with short comments and these postings get more visibility then comments.

  4. Here are some photos of the bridge replacement that we got started on at yesterday's workday. This is on Section 1 of the Falls Lake Trail between Raven Ridge Rd and Falls Dam. (I'm adding them as I go. The first several photos are an earlier survey of wrecked bridge and the site.)

    Another crew was building trail on the south bank of the Eno River / Falls Lake near the end of Hamlin Rd.


  5. The maps reference in this post are no longer available through the FMST web site and are will become available at


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