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Gathering of Friends, Surf City 2019


Registration is now open for the 2019 MST Gathering of Friends in Surf City, NC, the weekend of March 22nd through the 24th, 2019. Surf City, right on the Topsail Island shore, is nestled amongst our trail communities in Pender and Onslow Counties. While these areas suffered significantly from Hurricanes Florence and Matthew, we’ve been assured that our presence in Surf City and Pender County will not hinder the recovery process, and that we are indeed very welcome.
The timing of this Gathering also presents us with a very special opportunity – one of being purposeful partners in the rebuilding of our trail communities. While this Gathering will include plenty of fun, fellowship and catching up on the latest trail happenings, we’re also going to expand our focus to include time for service.
The central events of the weekend include a reception at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, with dinner at the Surf City Community Center Friday night and the Annual Membership Meeting on Saturday followed by a group sunset hike of the new Surf City Bridge. For the rest of the weekend, we are confirming a full-schedule of excursions and service opportunities to help you enjoy the outdoors, learn more about this special part of North Carolina and help the community as it continues to recover.
A few hot items from the schedule: 
  • Thursday and Friday, before 5 pm –  Excursions and service projects – see below for more details.  Please note: the events that we are working on for Thursday are not confirmed yet, and one of those may be on the Neusiok portion of the MST which is just under 2 hours from Surf City.
  • Friday, March 22 – 5:00 to 6:30 pm– Reception at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center –   Meet director and Oceana’s Ocean Hero, Jean Beasley, and learn about the center’s work to protect turtles in the water and on the beach, to rescue and rehab sick and injured sea turtles, to educate the public about the plight of sea turtles, and to meet some of their current turtle residents.
  • Friday, March 22 – 6:30 to 8:00pm – Surf City and Pender County Tourism will be hosting a casual welcome dinner at the Surf City Community Center immediately after the reception.  Menu is being finalized, but word on the streets is that seafood is top contender (along with vegetarian options, of course.)  There will be a short welcome from Friends and our hosts.
  • Friday, March 22 – 8:00 pm to …  Salty Turtle Beer Company If you’ve got the stamina, join us at the Salty Turtle at 8:00, a brewery just around the corner, for a nightcap before retiring for the evening.
  • Saturday, March 23 – 10 am to 3 pm – The Annual Meeting – will include reports on progress to build, maintain and promote the MST; keynote address by Walker Golder, the Director of the National Audubon Society’s Atlantic Flyway Coast Initiative; several workshops; and awards for hikers who have completed the trail and for outstanding volunteers. Doors open at 9, with coffee, light breakfast snacks and time to chat. The meeting starts at 10.
  • Saturday, March 23 – 6:30 – Hike as a group over the new bridge to Surf City at sunset.  We’re the first group being given permission to do this – the views should be amazing.
  • Sunday, March 24 – 9:00 am –   Guided hike in Holly Shelter with Andy Wood from the Coastal Plain Conservation Group. We’ll see the transformation after a devastating peat fire in 2006 and explore the longleaf pine savannah.  Andy has spent decades working to protect rare and imperiled plants and is a fascinating guide. (Photo by Pete Wetzel.)

A bit more about the excursions and service opportunities:  Many are still evolving, as we’re revamping the focus to include more service opportunities.  Confirmed events include: guided hikes in Stone’s Creek with lead volunteers that work in that area; a hike on the beach section of the MST with the 2018 class of completers; learn to build a bow-string bridge with lead volunteers from Onslow County; hear from Friends’ Ben Jones about trail plans along the Coastal Crescent; learn how to do GIS mapping with Surf City’s GIS technician Mike Dickson;  journey along Topsail Island with Surf City Mayor, Doug Medlin as he shares the history of the island; paddle the Intracoastal Waterway with East Coast Sports and guide George Howard; work with Surf City Parks to build a kiosk and trail head for a trail at the Community Center; and walk the beach to sweep it clear of trash and any debris.  We are working on projects along the Neusiok (tentatively Thursday prior to Gathering), Moores Creek National Battlefield (tentatively Thursday and Friday), and in Burgaw and Pender County (tentatively Sunday.)

We know that through these excursions, hikes and service projects you will fall in love with the area, and by giving your time and labor, we expect the connection will be even deeper.  Most of the excursions will require pregistration to help us plan accordingly and all are included in your registration fee, with the exception of paddling on the Intracoastal Waterway.  A full list and registration for these will be available soon.
Accommodations: Because of the damage to our planned host hotel, we are now using several different locations.  Check our website for the different types of lodging options in Surf City, from efficiencies to rental houses – we know you’ll find something that works for you.  Many trail friends are connecting and renting homes together, a great way to spend more time as a group.
Registration for the Gathering of Friends — including the reception and dinner on Friday and the Annual Meeting on Saturday — is $75. You may choose to register for each event individually, at a rate of $35 for Friday reception and dinner and all the excursions that don’t require an additional fee, or $45 for the Saturday Annual Meeting and all the excursions that don’t require an additional fee. Up to 3 additional family members may attend for $50 each for the entire event (with options of only attending one or the other event as well.)
The Gathering is a member-only event, and we welcome all members to attend. If you are not yet a member of Friends, you can join with a tax-deductible gift of $35 that can be added to your registration fee.
RSVPs are required by Wednesday, March 20th.  Refunds will be given until the 16th if you register and cannot attend.
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