[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 November 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.
In a grand reunion of moonshine and motorsports, NASCAR marks its 75th anniversary with a return to North Wilkesboro Speedway for the 2023 All-Star Race. The May 19-21 event will be the first sanctioned race in 27 years in the historic “moonshine capital of the world” and the place where stock car racing began. Known for its uphill backstretch and downhill frontstretch, the short track hosted more than 90 NASCAR events won by such legendary drivers as Fireball Roberts, Lee and Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Junior Johnson, a Wilkes County native whose white lightning runs prepared him for racing stardom. After owners Speedway Motorsports moved the NASCAR races to other tracks in 1997, North Wilkesboro hosted a few non-NASCAR events in 2010 and 2011. In August, a wildly successful Racetrack Revival grassroots event featuring Dale Earnhardt Jr. led to the decision to return the track to NASCAR glory. Between now and the All-Star Race, travelers can visit a pair of legal moonshine distilleries, Copper Barrel and Call Family Distillers, owned by the son of storied bootlegger Willie Clay Call.
As it celebrates its 50th anniversary, Carowinds theme park in Charlotte will open Aeronautica Landing, which draws inspiration from North Carolina’s First in Flight history and spirit of innovation. New rides arriving in the spring 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 extends operations to a year-round schedule starting Jan. 1. 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.
Cameron Art Museum has opened the nation’s first park honoring the United States Colored Troops who fought on behalf of the Union during the Civil War. In the park’s centerpiece, called “Boundless,” Durham native Stephen Hayes used casts of USCT descendants to create life-size figures marching into a battle that took place on the museum’s 9.3-acre site. USCT Park is designed for gathering, field trips, classes and workshops, storytelling and live music as well as USCT living history events at the museum, which relocated to the site in 2002. The next one takes place Feb. 18.
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 late 2023 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.
With its wild beauty, pirate-laced history and capitating village, Ocracoke Island claims the No. 1 spot on Dr. Beach’s 2022 Best Beaches in America list, a pinnacle it first reached 15 years ago. Ocracoke Beach has long been a favorite “getaway beach” for list author Dr. Stephen Leatherman, whose 50 criteria prioritize safety, cleanliness and overall appeal. Sitting 26 miles from the mainland, Ocracoke boasts 16 miles of pristine Atlantic shoreline with the village unfolding around a clam-shaped harbor on Pamlico Sound. Accessed by ferry and private plane, the destination adds appeal with its singular shops, restaurants and inns as well as histories that include Blackbeard’s last stand and the nation’s second-oldest lighthouse, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year.
Mayland Community College's Earth to Sky Park adds another enticement for stargazers to visit the Blue Ridge Mountain campus in Burnsville: the 60-seat Glenn and Carol Arthur Planetarium, opening June 25. A certified International Dark Sky Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the 6-acre Mayland park is home to the Bare Dark Sky Observatory and its 34-inch telescope, a viewing terrace, walking trails and gardens. Under the planetarium’s geodesic dome, visitors can gaze at a 36-foot screen to view the skies from around the world, watch laser light shows and enjoy other experiences.
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.
The nation’s first roadside food hall invites travelers to exit Interstate 95 at the timeless railroad town of Selma for a bite and a craft beverage. Old North State Food Hall, which opened in August on the East Coast's main north-south corridor, features fare from such area kitchens as Barley and Burger, Aroma de Cuba and Luna Pizza along with David Chang’s Fuku. At the heart of the 15,000-square foot space, a full-service bar called Longleaf Tavern features North Carolina beer, cider, wine and sprits as well as national brands.