A History of the Ayr Mount Master Trail Plan, Hillsborough, NC
By Bill Crowther, Site Supervisor
“Preservation in Progress” is a phrase that seems to reflect the current challenges of preservation work: on one hand, it literally describes the ongoing effort of making history and conservation more relevant to the present-day, while at the same time, on the other hand, stating preservation work is often done in stages (or by degrees) and that the outcome of this work may be understated, but rest assured it is indeed happening! The often opposing two words are joined together to remind us how important it is to save our natural and cultural history, and acknowledge this as a process that is long-term and requires patience. The emphasis of the Ayr Mount Master Trail Plan in Hillsborough, NC takes this long view and aims to show the progression of this local history in the context of Classical American Homes’ mission to preserve and make available to the public these treasures from the past.
[Continued from Newsletter.]
In 1994, Ayr Mount opened as a house museum after Richard H. Jenrette donated this 55-acre estate to Classical American Homes Preservation Trust (CAHPT). A few years later, Mr. Jenrette, a native-North Carolinian, suggested opening up a trail around the property that led to the creation of the Poet’s Walk (1999). Over the years, additional land purchases have increased Ayr Mount’s total property to 300-acres which now includes 5-miles of trails, 3 historic sites, and 1 nature preserve. In 2003, a master trail plan was written by landscape architect Charles H. Burger, who taught at NC State University and University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. His vision was to connect all these separate but contiguous areas. At the same time, Hillsborough was selected to be in the corridor for the emerging NC Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST). The timing and partnership of wider community interests with Ayr Mount’s plan was a stroke of good luck and destiny.
The master trail plan has been developed and implemented in phases. The Historic Occoneechee Speedway trails (2002), and the JMJ Nature Trail (2010) are now connected with downtown Hillsborough’s Riverwalk by way of a 95′-long footbridge crossing the Eno River. And this crossing is also a very important link in the MST. As you enter CAHPT’s property from Riverwalk, you’ll first encounter the Oxbow archaeology site along the Eno River bank that contains 3 distinct Native villages, dating as far back as 1000 AD. UNC research has been going on there since 1938. This new section of trail offers a deep connection with this natural and historical place as it highlights the present as well as the distant past. The new footbridge is located near the bend in the Oxbow and is made of corten steel that has a rusted look which blends into this natural setting. After crossing the Eno, you will emerge onto high ground on the south side of the river and walk a short distance to the entrance to the Speedway Trail.
Clearly marked signage along the trails inform everyone that preservation is the ongoing priority. As time marches on, these natural and cultural assets will continue to be well cared for. The aim of Master Trail plan is to protect the Eno River Valley and foster a greater appreciation for local Native history, in addition to preserving the only surviving dirt track from NASCAR’s first season, and the story of Ayr Mount’s prominent past and present.
Click here to see photos from the Footbridge opening.