The fifth annual Reach the Peaks couldn’t have gone any better, according to Stokes County Arts Council Director Eddy McGee and the hundreds of smiling faces at Hanging Rock State Park on Saturday morning.
“The weather was perfect, the volunteers brought their A hospitality game and the participants now believe that Hanging Rock State Park is the outdoor recreation capital of North Carolina,” McGee said.
More than 650 registered for Saturday’s event, which is considered the premier single-day hiking challenge in the state. Reach the Peaks offers a strenuous 10 mile trail route testing participants to summit the five major peaks of Hanging Rock State Park, including Moore’s Knob, House Rock, Cook’s Wall, Wolf Rock and Hanging Rock.
“It allows runners and hikers to participate on the same trails and with different motivations. Some like to record their time and others just want to finish,” McGee said.
This marked Doug Mabe’s fourth time participating in the event and he finished with a personal best time of two hours and 48 minutes, 20 minutes faster than last year.
Mabe started preparing in August and went to the park at least four times a week, hiking different sections a day.
“I enjoy being out in nature and being with friends. The finish line is fun too because everyone feels like a winner when they get there,” he said. “I commend Friends of Sauratown Mountain and the Stokes County Arts Council for sponsoring a great event. More locals should participate because we have this great state park in our own county and many people don’t know about it.”
Reach the Peaks has grown its participation base to expand throughout the country. This year 16 different states were represented.
McGee believes participants enjoy the different elements of Reach the Peaks.
“The challenge of pushing themselves to complete, the beautiful views, plus the genuine encouragement that all of the participants and volunteers offer. Everyone wants each other to do their best,” he said.
McGee also understands the importance of partnering with Hanging Rock State Park.
“Every conversation regarding outdoor recreation from a tourism standpoint has to start with Hanging Rock. It’s also a great help that the staff is the absolute best, professional, knowledgeable, and they always go above and beyond to make sure that visitors have the best experience possible.”
From a volunteer vantage point this weekend, McGee said he saw how much visitors truly appreciate our mountains and river.
“For those of us that live and work in Stokes County, we sometimes take it for granted. For me it was a great opportunity to fall in love with Stokes County and Hanging Rock all over again.”
Park Superintendent Robin Riddlebarger agreed. On Saturday she met a 67-year-old nurse, who was participating for the second time and was already making plans to attend next year.
“I heard a ton of people say thank you. A lot appreciated the food from Artists Way and the swag bags. I heard a lot of compliments about the Friends of Sauratown Mountain volunteers who were manning the peaks and encouraging the hikers,” she said. “Nobody in Stokes County provides more opportunities for fun than the Arts Council. It’s so much more than art.”
Each year, Riddlebarger enjoys watching the smiling faces of mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters cross the finish line together.
“I’m always moved. These folks are coming here to live their dreams. Completing that personal challenge made so many people happy. Great memories were made today.”
Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426.