Joshua Kinser grew up in Florida, has worked in scenic locales in California, Montana and Hawaii, and lives in Black Mountain. But there’s something about Charlotte that keeps him coming back.
“Talking to so many people who grew up in Charlotte, when I talk about hiking most people say they don’t consider Charlotte a place to hike at all,” says the 32-year-old wildlife biology field technician for the U.S. Forest Service. “I’ll bring up South Mountains (State Park near Hickory), and they’ve never been to that area. I think there’s a wealth of hiking trails and outdoor experiences in the Charlotte area that they may not know about.”
That’s part of the impetus for his upcoming book “Five-Star Trails: Charlotte – Your Guide to the Area’s Most Beautiful Hikes.”
Another factor is his long love affair with North Carolina’s natural beauty.
Kinser says he lived along coastal North Carolina in the Emerald Isle area, seasonally, for about six years.
“I would drive from the coastal area here to the mountains a lot. Along the way I would stop in Charlotte and explore the area ... it got me really interested.
“...As a younger man, I would go to the Smoky Mountains and hike up there. I started finding some really great places to camp, hike and explore, particularly South Mountains State Park. It was one of my first stops I made about eight years ago.”
Since then, he’s come to appreciate what hikers can find in Charlotte or within an hour’s drive of the city.
“There’s such a diversity of landscape, and you also have the first taste of mountains,” he says. “That was the shortest drive that I could make to get into mountainous area from the coast.
“But then I started exploring the greenway system in Charlotte. You guys have one of the largest greenway systems in the country. It’s phenomenal. To have so much greenspace interwoven into the city landscape in a really masterful way is a beautiful thing.
“I’ve just really enjoyed going into the city and then being able to walk these long trails right out from city center. I went to Irwin Creek Greenway. That’s a great example.You’re right there at the city center.You’re able to just walk right out from the city, basically, and get out on this greenway.”
Kinser’s compliments for the area are especially impressive, given the places he has explored: from the backcountry of Florida to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, with places such as Montana’s Glacier National Park and California’s National Forest lands surrounding Yosemite National Park in between.
Not exactly the resume you’d expect from someone who studied journalism at Pensacola, Fla., State College with an emphasis on biology.
“I started working in wildlife biology at 19 and kind of fell into it,” he says. “It’s backcountry work where we’re not hiking on trails. We’re hiking in the wilderness with a GPS unit, up to eight days at a time, backpacking and camping in these really deep wilderness areas of the country...”
As for how he ended up in North Carolina: “I fell in love with it at a very young age going on family trips up to the Smoky Mountains. It’s where I’ve always wanted to live.”
Kinser doesn’t hesitate when asked what he considers one of the Charlotte area’s best-kept hiking secrets: “The Birkhead Mountains Wilderness area of Uwharrie may be a fairly little-known place in Charlotte. Everybody knows the Uwharrie National Forest, but the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness area on the east side of Charlotte is a really great place to hike.”
It’s gems such as these that has Kinser excited about the book, which will feature 32 of the region’s best trails and is set for release on Oct. 30. “Charlotte seems to have a real high amount of interest for outdoor activity and hiking in general,” he said. “I can definitely see Charlotte growing more and more into an even larger outdoor destination.”
The guide rates each hike according to scenery, trail condition, children-friendliness, difficulty and solitude.
“I really wanted to have a collection of trails that were suitable for more of a wide variety of interests – specifically, including paths through downtown, including historical trails, paved trails, a path through the Fourth Ward,” he says.
“It’s something that I think a local can pick up and even if they’ve walked through the Fourth Ward or been through the other areas of Charlotte and these greenways, they can still gain a lot out of the information about places that they’ve maybe been to a lot.”