[Jan 10, 2018, 8:49 PM]
From its section of the world’s longest hiking-only footpath to the 1,175-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail, North Carolina comes by its “Great Trails State” handle honestly. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the N.C. Trails System Act, 2023 marks the Year of the Trail with events in each of the state’s 100 counties, where travelers can find trails for hiking, biking, paddling, horseback riding and off-road vehicles. Need a starting point? Try Hot Springs, where you can cross Bridge Street and claim an Appalachian Trail credit (the aforementioned “world’s longest”). Or Elkin, where the Mountains-to-Sea Trail intersects with paddling, mountain biking and other recreation. Or coastal Pettigrew State Park, where you can paddle as well as view Native American canoes dating back thousands of years. Learn more about Year of the Trail at greattrailsnc.org.
Two stars of the dinosaur world will take center stage in Raleigh in 2024 with the opening of “Dueling Dinosaurs,” a permanent exhibit at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. The most complete fossils of a Tyrannosaurus rex and a Triceratops ever unearthed will be displayed as they were found: locked together as if dueling at the time of their death. The museum is building a state-of-the-art research center, called SECU Dinolab, where the public can get a close-up view and meet scientists seeking to uncover secrets that were buried for 67 million years. The museum announced the acquisition of the T. rex and Triceratops in May 2020, 14 years after they were excavated at a Montana ranch.
As it celebrates its 50th anniversary, Carowinds theme park in Charlotte has opened Aeronautica Landing, which draws inspiration from North Carolina’s First in Flight history and spirit of innovation. New rides include the speedy Air Racer, the futuristic Hover & Dodge and the Air Walker, inspired by the Outer Banks setting where the Wright Brothers achieved powered flight in 1903. The theme continues with the new Terminal A restaurant, featuring a display of flight jackets, and the Aeronautica Landing Game Zone. In other news: Carowinds has extended operations to a year-round schedule. Since its opening on March 31, 1973, Carowinds has built a reputation for roller coasters, including the Fury 325, the world’s tallest and fastest giga coaster. The park is also home to Carolina Harbor, a 26-acre waterpark with slides, wave pools and large play structures.
The U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, home of the world’s largest artificial whitewater river, takes on the natural rapids of Western North Carolina with Whitewater Pisgah. Located in Mills River, the new adventure hub offers a range of paddling options plus climbing, mountain biking, gravel biking, hiking and backpacking, trail running and flatwater paddling. Guests can also find accommodations and hospitality services as well as rentals, instruction, guides and events. Whitewater Pisgah is part of an expansion of the center, which has hosted USA Canoe/Kayak Team trials for four Olympic games and boasts the first-of-its-kind Deep Water Solo Climbing Complex. The expansion includes Whitewater Santee in South Carolina and Whitewater Grayson, opening in Virginia in 2023.
Two blocks from the state Capitol in Raleigh, work is under way on N.C. Freedom Park, which will honor the Black struggle to achieve freedom for all. With completion targeted by the end of the year, the park was designed by Phil Freelon, the late Durham architect known for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington as well as the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture in Charlotte. The centerpiece of the 1-acre park will be a towering sculpture called "The Beacon of Freedom," which will shine a light toward the sky to reflect the fire for freedom.
The Carolinas Aviation Museum is targeting a summer 2024 reopening as the Sullenberger Aviation Museum, which will be housed in a new space at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Named in honor of “Miracle on the Hudson” pilot C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger, the reimagined museum will occupy multiple buildings on a 10-acre tract and offer flight simulators and other interactive elements. The collection at the Smithsonian-affiliate museum, which vacated its temporary CLT quarters in 2019, includes helicopters and commercial, military and civil aircraft, but its star is the Airbus A320 from US Airways Flight 1549. On Jan. 15, 2009, Sullenberger miraculously landed the plane after its engines were destroyed in a run-in with Canada geese.
The Yadkin Valley American Viticultural Area, the first and largest of North Carolina’s six recognized wine regions, reaches the 2-decade mark this year. With 1.4 million acres, which makes it roughly the size of Delaware, the AVA has grown from a handful of wineries to 46. Grapes cover a spectrum that includes well-known French and Italian vinifera, Vitis labrusca and French-American hybrids. The list of Yadkin Valley medalists from the San Francisco International Wine Competition includes JOLO, Jones von Drehle, Junius Lindsay, McRitchie, Piccione, Raffaldini and RayLen.
On an island accessible by only water or air, the nation’s second-oldest operating in lighthouse celebrates its bicentennial in 2023. The Ocracoke Lighthouse rises 75 feet, and its fourth-order Fresnel lens casts beam that can be seen from 14 miles away. Though the tower is not open for climbs, the lighthouse base is open from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. through mid-September for visitors to check out this landmark as they explore the island, whose history includes the final days of Blackbeard the pirate and two reigns at the top of the Best Beaches in America list.
Oyster farmers, restaurants. markets and educators invite travelers to indulge and learn along the N.C. Oyster Trail, which highlights an industry whose colorful history includes a war against out-of-state poachers. Stops extend from the Outer Banks to Bald Head Island with oyster farm tours, exhibits, excursions and dining with inland markets and restaurants sharing the delicacy with their customers. The Outer Banks Seafood Festival and other events will also elevate oysters at their 2021 celebrations. The Oyster Trail is administered by the N.C. Coastal Federation and N.C. Sea Grant in partnership with the N.C. Shellfish Growers Association.