I read an article recently that said scientists have determined that a major factor
in a person’s longevity is how physically active he or she is, especially in their
The piece, in an AARP magazine, seemed to verify something my dad told me a long time ago. It was that a lot people, once they retire, “don’t wear out, they rust away.”
If those scientists and my old man were correct, there are some folks in eastern
North Carolina that may live to be 150. They are members of the Carteret County
Wildlife Club who, for almost fifty years have hacked, hauled, sawn, nailed, hiked,
marked and plotted a walking path through a portion of Croatan National Forest.
Today, the Neusiok Trail stands as a 22-mile monument to their dedication and efforts.
Hiking trails have been plentiful in the mountainous western counties of North
Carolina ever since Native Americans first began to traverse the peaks and valleys
in pursuit of game and trading partners. Down in the flat coastal plain, it was a
different story, however. There were no steep slopes to contend with but there were
dense forests which were often punctuated by “pocosins,” wetlands unique to
eastern North Carolina and a few other places on the south Atlantic coast. Humans
attempting to move through it, found almost impenetrable stands of fetterbush, titi,
loblolly bay, greenbriar and other low-growing perennials, punctuated by pond
pines and the occasional sweetgum.
That is why many Native Americans and early European settlers used the region’s winding waterways as routes of travel.
There were ways to negotiate the eastern flatlands, though, if a person had the
where-with-all to find and follow a path through the less difficult terrain. In 1970,
members of the Carteret County Wildlife Club came up with the idea of doing just
that. Gene and Sue Huntsman, Bob Simpson and others determined to blaze a trail
through the Croatan in the area east of Havelock.
They quickly learned that the term “blaze” involved finding a route that could
be followed without sinking waist-deep in water or fighting through impenetrable
vegetation. Then, the path had to be marked somehow so it could found again, and
cleared to the extent that individuals could make their way along it safely and in
relative comfort. Over the years, with assistance from the National Forest Service
as well as other private groups, a trail did take shape. Gradually, it was extended
and improved and, today, extends from its northern terminus at the Pine Cliffs
Recreation Area off Hwy. 306 east of Havelock to its southern end at Oyster Point
on the Newport River.
Construction and maintenance have involved clearing brush, building bridges
and walkways in wet areas, marking the route, and constructing shelters. The
shelters are located at about one-third distances along the trail. They are open lean-
tos that allow hikers to sleep in a dry spot without having to carry a tent. They also
have small grills and water pumps close by. Use of the shelters is free but hikers
should be prepared with a Plan B in case they reach one and it’s full.
Most folks would agree that the most important aspect of any trail is being able
to follow it. Toward that end, the Neusiok Trail is well marked with rectangular
aluminum strips about 5-6’ up trees. At some spots there are also white painted
circles around the trees. They indicate that the trail is part of the 900 mile-long
Mountains to the Sea Trail that extends from The Great Smokey Mountains in the
west to Jockey’s Ridge on the outer banks.
The Neusiok Trail is roughly divided into four sections, each accessible from
nearby roads, and is suitable for day hikes as well as over-nighters. Late winter to
early spring – right now – is an ideal time to explore any of its parts. Cool
temperatures keep mosquitoes and deer flies at bay while offering more open
views of cypress swales, pine savannahs and coastal plain streams.
Quiet hikers may glimpse a whitetail deer slipping through the shadows or, if
they’re really lucky, spot a bear in the distance. Early morning risers may be
treated to a tom turkey’s gobble echoing through the forest at various points along
the trail and are almost certain to hear the “scree, scree” of a soaring osprey
anytime they are near one of the waterways along the route. This time of year,
year-around residents as well as migrating songbirds may make an appearance at
any point on the trail.
Information about the Neusiok Trail is available online at
www.carteretwildlifeclub.org or at the Croatan National Forest office on Hwy. 70E
between New Bern and Havelock. The Carteret County Wildlife Club site includes
information on how anyone can join the CCWC (you don’t have to be from
Carteret County) and get involved in their many adventures which include things
in addition to trail-building such as canoeing, hiking, wildlife excursions and
outdoor cooking. Individuals of all ages and experience – kids included - are
welcome. They just need a sense of adventure and a desire to have fun. Who knows, they may even live to be 150!
Ed Wall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-671-3207. His website is www.edwalloutdoors.com