A posse was on the hunt Sunday to lasso interest in the Pine Cliff Equestrian Trails at the Croatan National Forest.
A group of 86 horse riders turned out to celebrate completion of 13 miles of trails and draw attention to the need for camping facilities at the site as a draw for equine tourism.
"We just want everybody to know about it. We’re trying to get camping here," said Buffy Blood, president of the Benefiting Intracoastal Trails, a nonprofit organization formed eight years ago to spearhead the effort to create the equestrian trails in the national forest.
"We’re trying to get more interest and more facilities here in the eastern part of North Carolina. There are camping areas for horses in other parts of the state. and we’d love to see it start here."
The effort to get the trail established goes back more than half a dozen years, said Dennis Foster, assistant ranger for recreation and engineering at the Croatan National Forest.
Foster said a $71,000 federal Race to the Top grant funded creation of the trails, and another $75,000 grant would pay for completion of the parking lot.
"It’s a unified effort. They help us maintain it," Foster said of the trails group. "They did all the mowing this year and all the brushing and a lot of maintenance. There’s a lot of maintenance. Because everything grows here, they’ve got to be brushed twice a year."
Foster said the horse trails are rare in the eastern part of the state and he has already been contacted by two other groups about them.
"It’s going to be a point of destination for the Croatan," he said. "There are not many trails of this magnitude in eastern North Carolina.
"Once that it becomes established I believe that people are going to drive from all across the state to do this trail."
Foster said the trail has a variety of scenery.
"It goes down along the river. There’s some really magnificent things down there to look at," he said. "It goes all the way through upland hardwood to bottomland hardwood."
Edward Lloyd, of Havelock, came out for Sunday’s ride.
"This is very much an asset for the horse people around here," he said. "One of our big hopes is that the forest service will turn this into a facility where we can camp overnight with our horse trailers. That’s something that we really need because it would help draw in more people from further away."
Lloyd said there were about 300,000 horses in the state that are part of a multi-billion dollar industry.
"Some place like Pine Cliff here is very, very important and the economic impact is just far reaching, much more than anybody realizes," he said.
Peggy Grammer, of Newport, also came out for Sunday’s ride through the forest.
"It’s beautiful," she said. "We just so thoroughly enjoy coming out here. It’s a piece of paradise because of the serenity, the woods, the water. It’s just a great ride."
She thinks camping on the trails is a good idea.
"If you come from a long distance, you want to have a place to camp and keep you’re horses," Grammer said. "The more we promote it, the more people will come out."
All of the trails start at a gravel parking lot one mile down the access road to the Pine Cliff Recreation Area on the left. The trees at the start are marked with large red splotches of paint. There are three trails — red, yellow and blue — of various lengths.
"I love to ride here," said Debbie Geraty, a member of the trails group from Newport. "We love the fact that since we live on the flatlands, this has a little bit of up and down. You get a lot of the changes in the colors of the seasons. You can ride along the Neuse River and walk on the sand and then head back into the forest. It’s one of my favorite places really. It gives you the illusion that you’re in the mountains but you’re really not."
Mary Humphreys called the trails beautiful and said the blue trail is her favorite.
"The horses love it," she said. "It’s just very peaceful and quite out here."
Eventually the trials could be linked with the state’s Mountains to the Sea Trail.
There is no admission charge to use the trails. The use of motorized all terrain vehicles is prohibited and there is a $500 fine for anyone caught using an ATV on the trail. Pedestrians and bicycles are allowed.
For more information on Benefiting Intracoastal Trails, contact Blood at 249-9850 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information is also available by calling the Croatan National Forest office at 638-5628.