The Big Pinnacle at Pilot Mountain State Park in snowier times, March 2018.

Had enough tense news for one week? Ready to ease the pressure and get away from it all? How about a nice walk this weekend in one of our lush state parks? It wouldn’t take long to get to Pilot Mountain.

There’s a small chance that traffic might get a little backed up on the road to the parking lot at the Little Pinnacle Overlook. But it’s still worth the drive, and steps are being taken to reduce that likelihood in the future.

Traffic jams on the main drive to the parking lot generally happen closer to holidays. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, for instance, it took some drivers an hour to get to the knob’s parking lot, the Journal’s Lisa O’Donnell reported recently.

It’s a sign of how this park’s popularity has grown over the years. Between 2012 and 2019, visitation grew from 437,000 to 785,000. That puts a lot of pressure on the park’s resources.

So later this year, the park plans to begin a shuttle service that will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends and holidays from March to November. During a three-year trial period, it will transport visitors from the new visitor center being developed at the entrance of the park to the parking lot at the top. Some nominal fee may be involved, but it wouldn’t be excessive.

“This isn’t a new idea but it’s new to state parks,” Matt Windsor, who has been the park superintendent for 12 years, told the Journal.

So, no more risky glances off the steep road while driving. And no more traffic back-ups. The change is likely to make visits much more pleasant.

More than $4 million of the bond money approved by voters in 2016 is being applied to the visitor center, currently under construction and expected to open in early spring. It will include exhibition space and an ecological education center.

“This is one of the original dreams, to have an ecological education center here,” Windsor told the Journal. “We hope this is a way to re-introduce the park to the community. We don’t want to cram more people in the park; we want them to stay longer and have more appreciation of the place.”

But though most visitors are familiar with the picturesque knob at the top — a regional landmark more than 2,000 feet high and visible from miles away — even from downtown Winston-Salem — it’s also a starting point for several hiking trails and a bridle trail.

There are also opportunities for climbers — though not typically on the knob itself.

For more information, go online to: http://www.pilotmountainpark.com/

Pilot Mountain State Park is only one of several options for outdoor enthusiasts, and there’s probably no better way to escape from the crowd and the cacophony of a constant news cycle than to turn off the phone and explore. Happy hiking.

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