A 1,200-mile footpath cuts through the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic, creating in North Carolina what forester Benton MacKaye called a realm between primal and human nature.
In this instance, the realm is a patchwork tapestry of old tobacco barns and textile villages, weathered lighthouses, pine forests, crashing waves and windswept sand dunes. The path comes 80 years after MacKaye’s vision for an Appalachian trail, or a “cobweb” of footpaths that create “a refuge from the crassitudes of civilization” so that we may learn to be civilized.
Like MacKaye’s trail, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail has been made by hand, a reflection of the cultural sensibility of today’s Raleighites as well, if you ask Visit Raleigh’s Director of Sales, Malinda Harrell.
“One million residents in Greater Raleigh from different backgrounds, with different beliefs and of different abilities are shaping the growth of our emerging creative businesses. This vibrant cultural melting pot of passionate and innovative makers is the lifeblood of our city, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
A Walk on the Wild Side
Meetings and conventions groups can get in touch with their wild and artistic sides during a hike on section 11B of the trail, a greenway parallel to Neuse River that meanders by transient public art displays and across suspension bridges, sunflower-bathed fields and natural preserves. BMX and go-kart racing, one of the highest indoor rock climbing walls in the country, outdoor obstacle courses, canoeing and paddleboarding also keep Raleigh true to its “one of the most adventurous cities in America” accolade (Men’s Health magazine). Harrell says a three-pronged sustainability strategy of environmental stewardship, social equity and economic strength is one of the most adventurous initiatives to date.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail comes 80 years after MacKaye’s vision for an Appalachian trail, or a “cobweb” of footpaths that create “a refuge from the crassitudes of civilization” so that we may learn to be civilized.
“[We’re] not only installing plug-in stations for hybrid and electric vehicles and reducing greenhouse gases, [we’re] making buildings more efficient, reclaiming and recycling materials and resources, creating green jobs and improving infrastructure. Raleigh is a certificated 4-STAR community, and the first community in North Carolina to achieve certification through the national STAR Community Rating System (STAR) for excellence in sustainability.”
Solar-powered charging stations are the latest innovation that groups can utilize during downtime, and the LEED Silver-certified Raleigh Convention Center, just steps away from the newly opened 175-suite Residence Inn Raleigh Downtown and connected to the soon-to-be renovated 400-room Raleigh Marriott City Center hotel, is the place to be for sustainable events. One of the largest and newest underground speakeasies in the Southeast is also trying its best to be a sanctum for exhausted execs. The cavernous Watts & Ward, emulates the underground spirit of the 1920s with swanky leather seating, vintage artwork, rustic tables, dim lighting and bookshelves full of history. Buyouts for up to 300 attendees are happening here.
The Smithsonian of the South
Raleigh is thought of as the “Smithsonian of the South” not only due to an abundance of high-quality, free museums, historic attractions and educational institutions, but where they converge with the stories of natural landscapes and the creative and pioneering spirit. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina Museum of History offer free entry; the Contemporary Art Museum Raleigh, Carolina Ballet and North Carolina Theatre have minimal fees and all are within walking distance to the convention center.
Downtime in the District
Harrell says the new Morgan Street Food Hall in the Warehouse District and its shopping, dining, galleries, brewery, bean-to-bar chocolate factory and tech incubators will offer unique meeting space to groups when it opens this year. The Brewery Bhavana in downtown Raleigh’s Moore Square district is a “gathering space welcoming people from all walks of life and backgrounds” for Belgian-inspired beer, dim sum, a library and flower shop, all in one. Groups of up to 250 can also get inspired at Vidrio, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant with more than 50 wines on tap and nearly 400 stunning, hand-blown glass pieces in the Glenwood South entertainment district.