North Carolina’s premier hiking event, Stokes County’s own Reach the Peaks, is already set to exceed last year’s participation numbers when it kicks off Saturday morning.
“We started out with about 110 hikers the first year, then we had 404 last year and we are already past that with 450 advanced registrants this year, and we cut that off a month ago,” said Stokes County Arts Council Director Eddy McGee. The event is joint effort between the arts council, the Friends of the Sauratown Mountians (FSM) and Hanging Rock State Park. “The first two years we doubled the number of participants on the day of the event, so we are conservatively estimating that we will have about 700 people.”
The hiking event, which will take participants to five of Hanging Rock State Park’s main peaks over the course of an 11-mile hike draws participants from throughout the state and surrounding region.
“Over 90 percent of the people who have registered so far are from outside of the county,” said McGee. “Last year we had hikers from eight different states and it looks like it will be similar this year.”
FSM President Jay Young said he was pleased with the way the event had grown so quickly.
“We were ecstatic at the almost four-fold growth of the event in 2014 and are diligently planning for the growth in participation for this year’s event,” said Young. “We are especially pleased to showcase one of our two wonderful State Parks and the Sauratown Mountain range to those coming from other parts of North Carolina and from out of state. We wish for these participants to extend their visit overnight and take advantage of goods and services offered by some of our business members. Hopefully those folks will make return visits between now and next year’s event to discover all that the Sauratown Mountains have to offer.”
McGee said that philosophy toward developing tourism in the county through the event had proven true this year.
“We are finding that people who are registered for Reach the Peaks have actually been coming to Stokes County throughout the summer and training for the event,” said McGee. “It is not just a benefit for the county on the day of the event, it has now become a benefit throughout the year.
“People are coming here to train and they are staying here and eating here,” he added. “I had one lady come in last week who has already hiked the entire route six times this year in training for the event.”
McGee said many local lodging businesses had told them they were already booked with participants for this weekend.
While the main focus of Reach the Peaks is the hiking challenge, the event also draws a number of trail runners, with about 25 runners having registered for the grueling 11-mile course so far.
Runners are set to leave the starting line at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday with hikers heading out between 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
“We are going to encourage the hikers stagger when they leave,” said McGee. “That is a lot of people to put on the trails at one time.”
He added that day of registrants would be accepted, but asked that runners register by 7 a.m. and hikers register by 8:30 a.m. Day of Registration is $35 per person. Day of Registration will receive water/fruit, trail map, post-hike meal/beverage, and trail safety team sweeps. Participants who complete the challenge will receive a specially created embroidered patch, and join a select group of hikers who have completed this single day hiking challenge. Dog registration is $15 per dog, with each receiving a Reach the Peaks bandana (and patch should they complete the hike).
“If people are nervous about doing the whole thing, they can still come up and hike a little bit and enjoy the park,” said McGee. “They can help congratulate the hikers as they come in and then they can consider doing it next year.”
Arts are also a big part of the event.
“The Triad Outdoor Painters will be there Saturday,” said McGee. “They have actually started coming up during the week so they will have quite a few pieces finished to display during the event to promote the exhibit reception which will be on Oct. 11 in the Hanging Rock Visitor Center Gallery.”
McGee said this year the plein air painters would spaced out throughout the trail.
“They are going to make an effort to be at more of the peaks and do some pieces where some of the hiking participants are included,” he added.
This year, organizers are also planning more events at the starting/finish line.
“It will be more of a festival atmosphere this year with a lot of vendors in the parking lot,” said McGee. “We will have a DJ with music and we will have food for sale for non-participants.”
Non profit tents that will be present will be Stokes Arts, Friends of Sauratown Mountains and the Sauratown Trails Association. Business vendors will include By Foot Sports and Village Outdoors. There will be one lodging space and the tourism tent.
McGee said the event had also grown its sponsorship base this year. Each of the five peaks is being sponsored by a major contributor including Flow Subaru, VF Corporation, Hanes Brands, Employee Benefit Advisors, and Assurant Employee Benefits and each mile marker is being sponsored by local business, including Singletree Gun and Plough, The George Farmhouse, The Danbury General Store, Luna’s Trail Farm & Event Center, Froggy Waters Outdoors, Newberry Manor, The Beautiful Earth, Moore’s Springs Manor, Carolina Ziplines Canopy Tour, Carroll Signs & Advertising.
An after party is also planned at the Green Heron Ale House from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m.
Proceeds raised form the event will be split between FSM and the arts council.
“The FSM half of proceeds realized from the event will be put to use based on the overall needs of the two parks, but a significant portion will be earmarked for the Vade Mecum repair and restoration fund,” said young. “We are committed to seeing this wonderful facility restored to its former glory and reopened to the public for park visitors and community use.”
McGee said the arts council would likely use the funds to help improve arts programs in local schools.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.