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Trails advocate dies while hiking in park

By Bruce Henderson and Steve Lyttle

Outdoors and afoot, Gary Mims was in his element Saturday when he died in an apparent accident at Crowders Mountain State Park.

Friends and colleagues remembered Mims, 58, as an ardent advocate of trails in Gaston County. The cardiac rehabilitation manager at CaroMont Health, they said, had a passion for getting folks outside.

A hiker found Mims dead Saturday afternoon on a rainy day in the park, at the bottom of a 70-foot outcrop called David’s Castle. His backpack and a garbage bag were found at the top.

“He was a friend to the park. We have reason to believe that he was collecting trash along the trail,” said Ranger Mary Smith.

Mims visited Crowders Mountain nearly every week.

Mims led the Gaston County steering committee of the Carolina Thread Trail, a 15-county trails network. He had also been involved with a precursor group that formed years earlier, among numerous other community roles.

“He knew the importance of active health within the community. He was a huge outdoorsman so I think it was just a perfect fit when we started in Gaston County,” said Randi Gates, the Thread Trail’s grants and community coordinator.

“He lived it; he worked it; it was his passion. As far as a local supporter of the Thread Trail, he was on top.”

The Thread, as it is called, has 21.3 miles in Gaston County, including a 2.8-mile segment dedicated in December at the Seven Oaks Preserve near Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. Mims attended the opening ceremony.

In a 2010 Observer interview, he credited his fellow Gaston County residents for their work to build trails and greenways.

“We have a lot of natural beauty here,” he said. “And we have a lot of people who want to see things preserved and protected.”

Mims’ Facebook page has posts and pictures of his recent hiking, climbing and kayaking adventures.

“He was the kind of guy who never took the elevator and was always running up the stairs,” said Donna Lockett, executive director of the community group Gaston Together. Mims chaired its greenways team, which serves as the Thread’s local steering committee.

Mims was also an early leader of Connect Gaston, a nonprofit group that formed in 1998 to support construction of Gastonia’s first greenway.

“He was passionate, but in a very diplomatic, soft-sell sort of way,” said former Gastonia planning director Jack Kiser.

Mims was usually among the first to sign up to speak at public meetings when trails, greenways or bike paths were on the agenda. Kiser laughed as he recalled a meeting on a proposal to put more communications towers on Crowders Mountain, whose prominent peaks are visible for miles.

Mims, he said, spoke up to note that promotional photographs of the mountain digitally erase the towers already in place. “Why would you want to put more up there?” he asked.

Police say Mims apparently fell at the park sometime before 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Another hiker spotted him on the ground, and paramedics say Mims was dead when they arrived a short time later.

“He was alone at the time of the accident and believed to be hiking and not rock climbing at the time,” said Donna Lahser, a Gastonia Police spokeswoman. Crowders Mountain has 150-foot vertical drops and is popular with climbers.

Police say they believe weather might have been a factor in Mims’ death. A thunderstorm moved through the park area around noon, and heavy rain fell for several hours afterward.

“Rocks and leaves were slick,” Lahser said.

At least eight fatalities have been reported at Crowders Mountain State Park since 1985, mostly among climbers. The most recent before Mims’ death was last May, when Illinois resident Brett Bradshaw, 48, died from a fall.

Henderson: 704-358-5051; Twitter: @bhender
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