This weekend, Pender County will undertake an ambitious first: hosting a conference of 250 people. It's the annual conference for Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (or MST)
, which runs 1,179 miles in North Carolina from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks.
The trail is a sequence of footpaths, roads and waterways. In Pender County, it meanders through Burgaw, Holly Shelter Game Lands and down to the coast at Surf City.
"It is a big deal to host this annual conference because it is the first time the Friends of the MST have conducted a conference on the coast," said Tammy Proctor, Pender County's director of tourism. "The last two years it has been in Elkin."
Some of the 250 attendees will also bring family members, Proctor said, adding, "We’ve filled up our available motels, inns and some beach houses. The economic impact is good."
The conference kicks off in the late afternoon Friday with a reception at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Topsail Beach, followed by a county-hosted community dinner at the Surf City Community Center.
In addition to Saturday's annual meeting, also at the community center, the schedule offers several hands-on options, including paddling a portion of Pender's stretch of MST with George Howard of On Shore Surf Shop; building a trailhead; hiking across the new Surf City Bridge, doing trail work in the Burgaw area and touring Holly Shelter Game Lands with a naturalist.
MST's conference information
notes that participants will be visiting an area that sustained significant damage from Hurricane Florence just over six months ago.
"Many residents have lost their homes, Surf City lost its Town Hall ... schools and basic services were disrupted for weeks, and much of the trail itself was under water across the entire Coastal Crescent portion," the website states. "While everything may look a little different right now, the heart of these trail towns is still strong."