Category Archives: OUTDOORS

How to fill a 29-slip marina basin in exactly nine minutes

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CARTERET COUNTY – Big, tough, large, and unusual are the ways that Bobby Cahoon of Pamlico County-based Bobby Cahoon Marine Construction likes his jobs.

The firm’s most recent assignment culminated Saturday afternoon during a ‘pull the plug’ ceremony at Bogue Watch, a new upscale residential community on the shoreline of Bogue Sound.

The spectacle was equal parts entertainment – attracting a crowd of approximately 300 people – and carefully orchestrated excavation of a dirt ‘plug’ separating the community’s new marina from the vast waters of the picturesque sound.

“I do enjoy the challenging ones,” said Cahoon.

Behind him, as eager spectators gathered, a worker on a mammoth excavator cautiously dug away. His goal: Prepare the site so precisely so that one final scoop – timed for exactly 1:30 p.m. – would trigger an expected cascade of Bogue Sound waters, all meant to quickly fill the marina to a depth of approximately 10 feet offering boaters at Bogue Watch quick, easy access to the sprawling, navigable waterways of eastern North Carolina.

The event went off without a hitch. Sunshine even broke through the heavy cloud cover, as waters on both sides of the breach reached equilibrium.

Mother Nature seemed pleased. Cahoon and his wife Teresa breathed a sigh of quiet relief.

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Open letter to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Landowner says Red Wolf never roamed eastern North Carolina

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

By Jett Ferebee

To: Ms. Sharneka Harvey

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA — The Endangered Species Act 10(J) rule specifically states that a nonessential experimental population of wolves may only be released within their historical range.  The attached Department of Interior map — commissioned by the DOI to determine the historical range of the red wolf for the species’ reintroduction program — clearly shows that the red wolf was never native to the State of North Carolina.

In 1995, this statement was added to the 50 CFR Part 17 1995 rules revision for the red wolf program in NC:

“(9)(i) The Alligator River reintroduction site is within the historic range of the species in North Carolina, in Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, and Washington Counties; because of its proximity and potential conservation value, Beaufort County is also included in the experimental population designation.”

In a recent Red Wolf ‘Program Evaluation’ prepared by the Wildlife Management Institute, the former Red Wolf Coordinator for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Mike Phillips, made the following comments: 

“It should be clearly noted in the report that the red wolf genome that exists is the product of selective breeding by U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists in the 1970s.” 

“There is no denying that the existing red wolf genome is something of a human construct.”

Ms. Harvey, please provide specific and detailed evidence that the “red wolf” that was a “human construct” and was “selectively bred” in a zoo in Tacoma, Washington, using hybridized coy-wolves from the State of Texas was ever present in the North Carolina counties of Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, Washington, and Beaufort as explicitly stated and added in 9(i) of the 50 CFR Part 17 1995 Rules revisions mentioned above.

The fact that this “invented” red wolf or any red wolf was never native to the State of North Carolina is perhaps a great indicator as to why, after 28 years, this taxpayer funded experiment continues to fail.

I would like this information in whatever format is most cost effective for the Service. I am a private citizen and will pay the costs up to $1,000 without the need for you to ask my permission.  If I missed something, please let me know.

Thanks,

Jett Ferebee
Greenville, N.C. 

Pests getting worse

Special to the County Compass
tiger-mosquito

The Asian Tiger Mosquito is one mean and nasty blood-sucking critter intent on destroying the outdoor experience!

As detailed in a new National Wildlife Federation report, climate change is posing growing challenges to our outdoor experience, particularly in the southeast.

Ticked Off: America’s Outdoor Experience and Climate Change analyzes the current science available on climate change and how warmer temperatures are giving a leg up to pests like ticks, mosquitoes, fire ants, jellyfish and poison ivy.

Specific Pest Examples

  • Deer Ticks: These carriers of Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and other illnesses will be more widespread. Warmer winters are allowing expansion of the range of deer tick population faster than projected, increasing the exposure of Americans to ticks and raising the risk of Lyme disease. And it’s not just humans at risk – our pets can also contract some of these same diseases.
  • Fire Ants: Currently spread across the entire Southeast, from Texas through North Carolina to Florida, fire ants could advance about 80 miles northward and expand in total area by 21 percent as climate change makes new areas more suitable for their survival. Already, at least 57 species of crops and other cultivated plants have been damaged by fire ants, resulting in losses in crops like corn, sorghum, soybeans, citrus trees, okra, potatoes and pecan trees.
  • Jellyfish: Jellyfish are morecommon in warmer years and are projectedto become more abundant as our climate warms. Currently, there are about 150 million jellyfish stings globally every year, but with a disrupted climate, there will be many more.
  • Stink Bugs: In the central Atlantic region, the brown marmorated stink bug population has exploded in the past decade, invading fields, forests, crops and homes. This insect feeds on many popular backyard garden crops like tomatoes, beans, berries, asparagus, sweet corn, peppers and more. Brown marmorated stink bugs can damage and destroy produce, interrupt normal fruit development and cause rotting. Longer summers increase the numbers of generations each year.
  • Tiger Mosquito: Asian tiger mosquitoes can transmit 30 different viruses to humans, including West Nile virus. In a warming climate, these insects will emerge earlier in the spring and produce more generations per year. Warmer temperatures are conducive to diseases typical of the tropics and carried by the tiger mosquito, such as dengue. Currently inhabiting less than 20 percent of the Northeast, by the end of the century, areas favorable to the tiger mosquito could double in the region, and the number of people facing exposure could also double to about 30 million.

Q&A

All we have to worry about are ticks? And you want to destroy the economy for that?

This report looks at just one slice of how climate change is already impacting America, by giving a helping hand to harmful pests. The National Wildlife Federation has also issued in-depth reports on other climate impacts, from more intense wildfires to flooded coastal habitats.

Isn’t this exaggerating/scaring?

This report details readily accessible, uncontroversial science. The National Wildlife Federation works hard to connect people, especially children, with nature and we’ve worked hard here to balance an honest assessment of the risks with the huge benefits to our health and wellbeing that come with time spent outdoors.

Aren’t you just talking about invasives, not climate change?

Climate change is affecting many native species of these pests: jellyfish, winter ticks, deer ticks, poison ivy and algae. Global warming is certainly just one of many factors giving a leg up to some invasive species. Habitat loss for native plants, fish and wildlife is also a major concern. We should be tackling all of the factors helping invasive species.

Community Garden takes shape, thanks to hardworking teens!

By John McCormick | Special to the County Compass

 

PAGE-28-Aurora-pic-1AURORA—In our last article, we shared with you visuals of the garden ideas and programmatic plans for change. This week, we would like to share with you some details of our plan. Throughout these past two weeks, Teens Leading Change has met with community members, designers, and even farming and economic experts to get their feedback and advice on the build of the garden. Here are just a few of the activities we planned and accomplished in the efforts to build the Aurora/Richland Township Community Garden:

Step #1: Get Feedback from Community!

Feedback is super important to creating a COMMUNITY garden so we’ve been asking the community via social network and in-person events for information on what they’d like to see in the garden. We visited Mallard Creek where senior residents gave us feedback on their preferred fruits and veggies list and then visited SW Snowden, where the 6th – 8th graders drew pictures of what they’d like to see in the garden. One youth even shared how they had never eaten a carrot before. It was an exciting thought to know that youth will have more access to healthy foods grown from a garden designed from their input. If you are from the Richland Township and would like to share your input on the garden, send us an email at teensleadingchange@gmail.com or call us (252)360-4435.

Step #2: Finalize the garden layout w/ Landscape Designer Courtney McQueen

This Saturday, our Landscape Designer met with us to use the feedback from the community to finish developing our Master Plan for the garden. Her assistance is allowing us to for our Saturday, August 16th – Community Build Day. This past weekend, she helped us identifywhat should be our priority action items for the garden build. Here’s what we worked out that would be built and/or developed by and/or on Saturday, August 16th Community Build Day:

  1. Identify the spot and/or location for the water line to the garden. Hook up water line and hose.
  2. Assemble 16 -18 additional 4ft x 8ft raised beds that are at least 6 inches and 12 inches high. These should be place around the projected “cooking demonstration” or “active living demonstration” area in the effort to outline that space. (see picture)
  3. Assemble (4 – 6) 4ft x 4ft children’s beds to the Northwest side of the garden
  4. Move topsoil and compost soil into a segregated area up against the fence area and label them in separate locations. Create signage for each sectioned soil area.
  5. Place topsoil & compost soil into newly assembled raised beds.
  6. Purchase materials for the Outdoor Chalkboard, Checker/Chessboard (TBD), and Sundial.

Step 3: Create a Planting & Harvesting Schedule

Teens Leading Change has been fortunate enough to have a wonderful support system in the Resourceful Communities Program (RCP), an entity of the Conservation Fund, that has not only been a lead funder in Teens Leading Change, but an excellent resource in connecting us to the tools we need to accomplish our goals. On, Monday, July 27th we had the pleasure of hosting Farm Resource Coordinator, Julius Tillery, who provided us with an informative session on how to create a planting and harvesting schedule. Then, he shared with us on the process to pricing future produce so that our stand can be sustainable yet continue to offer our community access to healthy produce.

TLC Produce Stand

We sincerely apologize to all of our customers for missing you at the Aurora’s Farmer’s Market this past Saturday, but we WILL see you this Saturday, August 2nd from 9am to 12pm. Hope to see you there.

Healthy Lifestyle Tip – STAY ACTIVE!

The Healthy Lifestyle Tip this week is on the importance of living an active lifestyle. There are many different ways that you can be active. While some will lift weights, others will run or walk. As you become more active, you will not only feel better about yourself and your body will become healthier. Being and staying active can help regulate cholesterol and blood pressure while lowering the chance of heart diseases, strokes, type 2 diabetes. So get up, get out, and go live an active lifestyle!

 

Dead hogs likely threat to water quality

By Gray Jernigan and Larry Baldwin | Waterkeeper Alliance | Special to the County Compass
All photos by Waterkeeper Alliance
Dead hogs outside a swine facility in eastern North Carolina. Photo taken February 2014.

Dead hogs outside a swine facility in eastern North Carolina. Photo taken February 2014.

EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA – In an open letter to Steve Troxler, Commissioner for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, staffers with the Waterkeeper Alliance plead for remediation in the way hog carcasses are being disposed of in the wake of widespread Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea, commonly referred to as PED:

Waterkeeper Alliance and the undersigned Waterkeeper Organizations are writing to you to demand urgent action on the part of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to address the imminent and substantial risks to human health posed by the swine industry’s disposal of the massive swine mortality associated with ongoing spread of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) virus that is affecting swine operations across North Carolina. While we understand that the PED virus does not directly impact human health, improper management of the swine mortality caused by PED does pose as serious threat of adverse health effects for North Carolinians.

More than 400 North Carolina hog farms, most located in the coastal plain, have been infected with PED, an acronym for the deadly Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea.

More than 400 North Carolina hog farms, most located in the coastal plain, have been infected with PED, an acronym for the deadly Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea.

The first diagnosis of PED in the United States was confirmed on May 17, 2013. In under a year, the virus has infected hogs in half of all states, and according to the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, the week of February 2, 2014, marked the record high for new cases reported since the start of the outbreak. North Carolina ranks third in the nation with 414 facilities infected with PED to date. North Carolina is the second largest hog producing state in the country, but it has the highest density of hog operations, mostly concentrated in the coastal plain. This high concentration of swine feeding operations makes disease transmission across facilities almost inevitable, and therefore efforts to curb transmission must be highly organized and coordinated.

PED infects pigs causing severe diarrhea and dehydration leading to death, especially in infant swine. Much emphasis has been placed on the negative economic impact that PED is having on the swine industry due to massive numbers of hog deaths. However, a significant risk to public health is looming with the disposal of those carcasses. Following previous mass casualty disasters, such as Hurricane Floyd in 1999, problems encountered include contamination of drinking water, fly control, odor control, and possible zoonotic disease introduction such as Leptospirosis, Salmonellosis, and Tetanus. These serious issues can be avoided with proper handling of PED mortality.

Makeshift Pipe to Transport Swine Waste to NC Stream

Makeshift Pipe to Transport Swine Waste to NC Stream

According to the 2011 Animal Burial Guidelines developed by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the disposal of animal carcasses due to massive swine mortality was a “significant problem” in 1999 and “[p]roper burial and disposal will prevent potential public health problems resulting from large numbers of dead and decaying animals including the spread of harmful pathogens, ground and surface water contamination, and pest control.” This statement reflects an obvious and widely held view that appropriate management of swine mortality is essential to protection of public health.

Following up on reports from concerned citizens, we have observed alarming numbers of dead hogs being handled in an unsafe manner in our state. Facilities posted with signage warning of the presence of PED are becoming noticeably more prevalent. “Dead boxes” used by swine feeding facilities to send hog carcasses for disposal off-site are being observed overflowing with dead and decomposing hogs, and surrounded by pools of

Raw Swine Waste Discharged to NC Stream

Raw Swine Waste Discharged to NC Stream

blood and carrion. Blood and other fluids pool on the wet ground, leach into groundwater and can runoff through ditches on the facilities resulting in contaminated public waterways. Flies and vultures swarm and pick at the flesh of dead hogs, and serve as a viable zoonotic disease transmission source. Rendering plants are at capacity, and we have observed carcasses sitting out for days on end waiting for transport.

We have also had reports of mass burials of hogs on the premises of swine feeding facilities. Many of these facilities are located in areas surrounded by wetlands and waterways where shallow groundwater is prevalent. Decomposing bodies in such areas pose the risk of contaminating groundwater in rural areas where many citizens get their drinking water from groundwater wells. Contaminants leaching into nearby surface waters pose significant public health concerns, especially in a region where aquatic recreation and fishing is prevalent.

We are gravely concerned about the impacts of this problem on public health, and the citizens of North Carolina deserve answers to questions about the nature of this problem, the risks to public health and North Carolina’s immediate plan to ensure that the industry and government are appropriately handling swine mortality.

Fish Kill and Sores in NC Estuary

Fish Kill and Sores in NC Estuary

North Carolina must be prepared to swiftly and appropriately respond to mass mortality resulting from the PED outbreak. We have made efforts to obtain information about the scale and extent of this outbreak and the carcass disposal problem in North Carolina from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (“NCDENR”). We have requested information on the number of fatalities, number and location of infected facilities and disposal sites, and measures employed to control the spread of this virus. Despite diligent research and reaching out to public officials in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Veterinary Division and the NCDENR’s Division of Water Resources, we have not been able to obtain reliable or sufficient information about this issue or what North Carolina is doing to address this serious public health problem. Emergency plans must be in place, carcass disposal must be handled in accordance with well-established standards that are protective of public health, and the public must be advised about the nature, scope and plans to address this serious problem.

Buzzards and Dead Swine - NC February 2014

Buzzards and Dead Swine – NC February 2014

According to Dr. Tom Ray, Director of Animal Health Programs-Livestock for the North Carolina. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department does not have a current list of facilities that are PED positive, does not have a full list of counties affected by the outbreak, does not maintain data on the number of hog fatalities due to PED, and is not taking any action on safe and proper disposal of carcasses, but is rather leaving disposal in the hands of the swine industry.

This course of action, or lack thereof, on the part of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is obviously inadequate as the prevalence of PED becomes more widespread by the day and the corresponding risks to the public from improper carcass disposal practices increases. It is also difficult to understand why the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services does not possess such basic information about this serious problem given their regulatory duties for oversight of carcasses disposal and monitoring of disease outbreak, especially considering the fact that some of the information we requested is available through a simple Internet query.

Editor’s note: Founded in 1999 by environmental attorney and activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and several veteran Waterkeeper Organizations, Waterkeeper Alliance is a global movement of on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect over 100,000 miles of rivers, streams and coastlines in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. For more information, see www.waterkeeper.org

 

Youngster summons resources to aid injured bird

Vivian Reed, left, is seen here with friends Savannah Pittman and Caroline James, next to a cage where an injured purple martin received tender, loving care.

Vivian Reed, left, is seen here with friends Savannah Pittman and Caroline James, next to a cage where an injured purple martin received tender, loving care.

By Vivian Reed, Age 12 | Special to the County Compass

ORIENTAL — On Saturday, July 14, while visiting with my Grandparents in Oriental, I came upon an injured purple martin in our yard.

Having cared for injured birds before, I knew to place the bird inside a box. After researching on how to care for a martin, my Dad cut air holes in the box while my Grandfather, an equine veterinarian, inspected the bird, finding a damaged wing. He also felt its keel (chest) to see if it was hungry. (If so, its chest would be protruding.)

Finding its chest to a fullness, my Grandfather then felt its legs and feet, to be sure they were warm. (If not, then the purple martin might have been in shock, or suffering from hypothermia.) After finding its legs and feet to be warm, we placed a shirt underneath the bird for further warmth and comfort, and let it rest for the night.

The next morning, my mother took the martin to the local vet clinic where Dr. Sherri Hicks noted that the bird had a puncture wound in its left wing. Returning home, our neighbors, the Pittmans, provided a birdcage and cared for the bird as we were out.

One of these purple martins (unidentified) can now frolic around a bird house in Oriental thanks to full-fledged resuscitation effort orchestrated by Vivian Reed.

One of these purple martins (unidentified) can now frolic around a bird house in Oriental thanks to full-fledged resuscitation effort orchestrated by Vivian Reed.

Attempting to feed the bird, they gave him seeds, bread, worms, and even chick feed. However, the bird rejected all of this. We gave him water from an eyedropper, but he turned it down. Things were not looking good!

Finally, I went on the computer and found that purple martins are insectivores, which means they only eat flying insects. On the long list of insects, one was dragonflies. Fortunately, dragonflies were plentiful in my Grandmother’s garden. I was hesitant to kill the dragonflies, but I knew it was necessary to keep the purple martin alive. With great relief, we watched as the bird quickly devoured the insects. He began drinking water out of the eyedropper as well!

After several feedings, I noticed that the martin would expand its chest and feathers as well as chirp. After further research, I found that this was a sign of joy and contentment. What a relief! On the third day, as my mother opened the cage door to feed the martin, he hopped out and flew to the purple martin house, where his family greeted him joyfully. This martin rescue was, by far, the most satisfying and exciting experience I have ever had with an injured bird.

Many thanks to those who helped save this bird’s life: Mrs. Sue and Gabriella, for providing the chick feed; Mr. Bob and Mrs. Claire Pittman, for helping care for the bird; my Mother, Grandmother, and brother, Gabe, for helping me feed the martin; my Dad, for preparing the bird’s recovery home; my Grandfather, for caring for and inspecting the martin; Dr. Sherri Hicks for taking the time to examine the bird; The Outer Banks Wildlife and Fisheries, for checking in on the bird.

Editor’s note: Thanks so much to our young correspondent for her well-written and heart-warming story.

Blind hiker completes trek

Park Superintendent Debo Cox greets blind hiker Trevor Thomas. (Photo credit Simon Lock)

Park Superintendent Debo Cox greets blind hiker Trevor Thomas. (Photo credit Simon Lock)

By Penny Zibula | Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a two-part report.

JOCKEY’S RIDGE STATE PARK – On the afternoon of June 22, we — along with Trevor Thomas’ family, friends, and Park Superintendent Debo Cox — stood atop a dune, which marked the end of the Mountains to Sea Trail.

We were awaiting the arrival of the blind hiker and his guide dog, Tennille, as the pair completed their most recent accomplishment.

Shortly after his arrival to much applause and cheering, Thomas told The County Compass that he felt exhilarated. 

“The fact that so many people came out is really touching,” he said. When asked what he missed most while he was on the trail, he said, without hesitation, “Starbuck’s.”

The hiker’s trail began in April amongst the mountains of North Carolina at Clingman’s Dome.

He and Tennille slogged through snow and rain, conquered challenging terrain, and encountered a variety of creatures, including several large snakes. They also encountered Trail Angels — friends and strangers who generously offer help and support to backcountry hikers.

Several Trail Angels came out to the dune to greet Thomas and Tennille. Some had heard of their pending arrivals along the trail, had offered food and permission to camp in their yards. Others were friends, like Laine Walter, who typed trail directions into emails from her home in Charlotte, and sent them to Trevor’s iPhone.

In this way, he had the information he needed. This, plus his uncanny ability to gather clues from his surroundings, enabled him to keep track of his progress without using GPS.

Thomas received Tennille from Guide Dogs for the Blind in 2012, the same training facility that gave me my guide, Otto, the previous year. Although we enjoyed chatting about our individual positive experiences at Guide Dogs for the Blind, the conversation soon turned to the specialized training he and Tennille received in order to prepare them for the continuation of his career as a professional hiker.

Tennille was trained to think in two modes. When wearing a harness, she knows that she is expected to perform street work, which consists of — among other things — stopping at every curb and change in terrain.

When they are on the trail, however, Thomas doesn’t put Tennille in harness, because, “She would be stopping for everything.” This would make progress painfully slow, so when Thomas puts Tennille’s small backpack on, “It tells her that it’s time to hit the trail.” She knows that she needs to make decisions that allow them to move at a rapid pace, without compromising Thomas’s safety.

Park Superintendent Debo Coxpresents a gubernatorial citation honoring Thomas and his guide dog. (Photo credit Simon Lock)

Park Superintendent Debo Coxpresents a gubernatorial citation honoring Thomas and his guide dog. (Photo credit Simon Lock)

Debo Cox, the park superintendent, presented Thomas with a citation from North Carolina Gov. Pat McRory.

I briefly interviewed Jef Judin, a documentarian assigned to film all aspects of the hike for Thorlos, a sock manufacturer and one of Thomas’ many sponsors. While performing his duties, Judin also made certain that Thomas had more than dehydrated meals to keep him going. At our first encounter the previous week, Judin was grilling steaks, corn and potatoes for Thomas, who burns a significant number of calories daily.

“I now have a completely different perspective of people who are sight impaired,” said Judin. “Because we don’t know, we tend to feel sorry for somebody who’s lost their sight, and feel like it’s a disability that’s very difficult to overcome. And in meeting Trevor, I’ve changed that completely”.

Over the last three months, the two have become close friends, and Judin is grateful for the insights he has gleaned.

“In a lot of ways,” mused Judin, “I feel that Trevor has an advantage over sighted people, because he‘s able to feel things that sighted people don’t even know are there. I have a feeling – a gut instinct – that Trevor is going to play a very large role in shifting consciousness about sight impairment.”

Despite all that he has learned through his work with Thomas, Judin has consistently been ahead of the curve professionally.

“I have always felt that what you hear is as important as what you see,” he emphasized.

He strives to give his films the ability to stand alone as audio without video, and video without audio. He wants his audiences to be able to look solely at the screen or hear only the audio, and, “Get the story,” he said.

While chowing down on a burger and fries – his first meal after coming off the trail – Thomas was already talking about his next hike, the Camino De Santiago in Spain in 2014.

Upon his return to Charlotte, he will be fulfilling obligations to sponsors, and continuing his work as a motivational speaker.

I reluctantly raised the question of whether or not Thomas would want to have his sight restored, if given the chance — a question that I am often asked.

“Definitely not,” he said emphatically.” “I’ve been blind long enough that it’s part of me. It’s part of who I am, like having blond hair or blue eyes. Would it make my life drastically easier? Yes, of course it would. But then I think of the things that I’ve done, and the energy and effort that I’ve had to put in. Would it make my life more rewarding? I don’t think so. If I wasn’t blind, I wouldn’t have this job. I’m the only long-distance hiker in the world that is paid to do what I do. Being blind is actually an asset for what I do. That’s the big positive. It’s given me one interesting job.”

Blind hiker blazes trails

“I’ve got more miles on me than a lot of used cars,” says long-distance hiker, Trevor Thomas, in remarks to Compass reporter Penny Zibula. Guide dogs for Thomas and Zibula are also shown in the photo.

“I’ve got more miles on me than a lot of used cars,” says long-distance hiker, Trevor Thomas, in remarks to Compass reporter Penny Zibula. Guide dogs for Thomas and Zibula are also shown in the photo.

By Penny Zibula | Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a two-part report.

CROATAN FOREST – Long-distance hiker, Trevor Thomas, and I sat across from each other under the trees at the Oyster Point Campground. With my voice recorder on the picnic table between us, this was a case of the blind interviewing the blind.

Local newspapers and TV stations had taken the opportunity to tell the story of this soft-spoken, insightful athlete and motivational speaker, as he and his black Labrador Retriever guide dog, Tennille, passed through the New Bern area during the final leg of the approximately 1,000 mile Mountains to Sea Trail through North Carolina.

Now it was the County Compass’ turn. And, I could relate.

When 2005 began, Thomas, then 35, was a law school graduate and self-described adrenaline junkie, who raced Porsches, jumped out of airplanes and went backcountry skiing.

If it was deemed crazy,” he recalled, “I would do it.”

But later that year, he found himself struggling through an eight-month process that would inevitably leave him totally blind.

My auto immune system woke up one day, and decided that the maculae were a foreign body,” he explained, “I went from thinking that I needed glasses – maybe contact lenses – to I lost my sight.”

As is common with severe losses, Thomas experienced feelings of anger, denial, and the other stages of grieving. For the first few months, he remembered being depressed, not knowing what he was going to do with the rest of his life.

Then came Thomas’ ‘ah-ha’ moment. A friend told him that he was taking him to see a speaker who was blind. Thomas was less than enthused, expecting some kind of “poor, pitiful me” presentation. But he went, because his friend insisted, and was also bigger than he was.

The speaker was Erik Weihenmayer, a blind mountain climber who had scaled numerous peaks, including Mount Everest. After the presentation, Thomas had an opportunity to speak with Weihenmayer, and the acceptance and encouragement he received was a life-changing experience.

Erik gave me permission to be foolish,” Thomas said. “I decided the next day that I was going to go out and get my life back.”

Since Thomas could no longer participate in running independently – “I kept running into parked cars” – Thomas turned his attention to hiking. During one of his lessons in traveling with a white cane, he persuaded his reluctant instructor to go into a sporting goods store to purchase a pair of trekking poles, which are ski poles for hikers. While he was in the store, Thomas couldn’t help but overhear someone talking about having hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. The man told of encountering bears, and nearly freezing to death.

By the time Thomas left the store, he had decided that he was going to hike the 2,200 mile trail — a decision that changed his life forever.

I convinced myself,” he recalled, “that if I could simply figure out a way to do that, I’d get my life back.”

Thomas set out approximately 16 months after losing his sight, and the successful completion of that hike was the beginning of a new career and a new life.

Since then, Thomas has climbed challenging peaks and hiked backcountry trails, including the over 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail. In 2012, Thomas trained with Tennille at the San Rafael campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Although he had applied to several guide dog training centers, GDB was the only one willing to train a dog for him that could safely guide him down backcountry trails, as well as city streets.

Now he and Tennille,– with Jef Judin, who is filming a documentary for sock manufacturer, Tholo, one of Thomas’s sponsors, — are nearing the completion of his latest accomplishment, which will end at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, on the Outer Banks on Saturday, June 22nd.

(Continued next week.)

Learn more about Trevor Thomas and his MTS trek at www.blindhikertrevorthomas.com. Learn more about Guide Dogs for the Blind at WWW.guidedogs.com

Readers may contact Penny Zibula by e-mail at penny@compassnews360.com.