Oak Island resident to walk nearly 1,200 miles in support of North Carolina’s wildlife, habitat

A 22-year-old Oak Island resident is about to leave on a nearly 1,200-mile journey across the state of North Carolina — and he won’t be traveling by car.
Published: Mar. 1, 2022 at 4:09 AM EST
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OAK ISLAND, N.C. (WECT) - A 22-year-old Oak Island resident is about to leave on a nearly 1,200-mile journey across the state of North Carolina — and he won’t be traveling by car.

Luke Bennett will walk the Mountains-to-Sea trail, which stretches 1,175 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks. Bennett, however, will be starting on the coast.

“I’ll be starting on the beach, walking to the Piedmont and then walking to the mountains of North Carolina,” he said.

Bennett grew up in Durham, went to college at Appalachian State University in Boone, and now lives in Oak Island. Not only has he bounced around North Carolina over the years, but he has spent a lot of his time outdoors: running, fishing, camping and more. Bennett estimates he’s traversed more than 20,000 miles.

Given this history, Bennett has developed a strong passion for the state of North Carolina and its wildlife.

“I’ve been all over the state and this trip seems like a great way to reflect on my life so far and become familiar with where I’m from, so I don’t forget who I am no matter where I’m heading,” Bennett said.

Bennett is not just walking the Mountains-to-Sea trail for fun — he also plans on raising awareness about the diversity of habitats and wildlife throughout the state along the way, according to a donation page.

Bennett will use his hike to raise money for the North Carolina Wildlife Federation (NCWF). During his journey, Bennett will take pictures of both himself and wildlife along the way, almost serving as a field researcher for NCWF, he said.

Those pictures, along with updates, will then be posted to a blog on NCWF’s website.

“I want it to be about more than just me,” Bennett said. “I want to make sure that I’m hiking this for a bigger reason, for a bigger cause, especially considering all the attention that it brings... I want to make sure that I’m directing that attention towards something that’s important, something that I care about and that’s the wildlife of North Carolina.”

Supporters can sponsor however many miles they want through a $10/ mile donation. A donor who was inspired by Bennett’s mission has agreed to match gifts up to $10,175.

Bennett expects the trip to take about 50 days, regardless of the elements.

“As long as I have some dry clothes in my bag I’m typically okay,” Bennett said when asked about walking through pouring rain. He will bring with him three pairs of socks, three shirts and two pairs of pants.

While he will camp out most nights along the trail, Bennett does have some friends and family he will stay with along the way. He will also stop at grocery stores near the trail to stock up on food.

The journey will most certainly be a physical test, but also a mental one.

“People think that it’s going to be this great physical challenge and, yes — it absolutely is — but at the same time it’s this mentally grueling process of hiking all day, every day, which as you can imagine is very monotonous and can be very boring at times, especially when the terrain is flat,” Bennett said.

Bennett plans to listen to music, audiobooks and podcasts to keep his mind busy. He has to download those ahead of time, so he doesn’t drain his battery and is not reliant on cell phone service.

Bennett will begin his walk at Jockey’s Ridge on the Outer Banks and finish at Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains. He plans to leave sometime mid-March.

The trail passes through coastal swamps, rolling Piedmont farms and mountain vistas, putting North Carolina’s biodiversity on display. Bennett said that he hopes to see a lot of salamanders and some black bears during his journey.

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