Donation assists Middle Fork Greenway
by Kellen Moore
Earlier this summer, the conservancy donated $15,000 to Watauga County Pathways to assist in construction of the Middle Fork Greenway, a trail planned to stretch from Blowing Rock to Boone along the New River.
The conservancy received funds from Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative to place an electric pole on a property owned by the conservancy.
The goal of the Middle Fork Greenway is to connect the existing Boone Greenway to a network of paths near Shoppes on the Parkway in Blowing Rock.
“We plan to have picnic areas with shelters, benches, parking, fishing access and have private businesses provide bicycle rentals,” said Bill Hall, chairman of Watauga County Pathways, who has worked on the project since he moved to Blowing Rock 15 years ago.
The Middle Fork Greenway Association, an initiative of Watauga County Pathways, is working to secure permits and engineering studies to build a pedestrian underpass beneath U.S. 321 to connect Tweetsie Railroad, Mystery Hill and Sterling Creek Park.
As of March, the group had already raised about $44,000 for the project and needed only about $18,000 to complete the engineering, design and permitting for the trail’s first one-mile section.
Part of the land to be included in the greenway’s footprint is a 3.6-acre property donated in 2004 by Barbara and Sterling Whitener to what is now Blue Ridge Conservancy. The property is a mix of open land and forest with 1,300 feet of frontage along the middle fork.
“Conserving these resources for recreational purposes is part of our mission at Blue Ridge Conservancy,” said Walter Clark, executive director of the Blue Ridge Conservancy. “We have supported these efforts by helping to write grants and holding easements on the properties. The Middle Fork Greenway will be an important asset to the High Country, and we hope to continue assisting Watauga County Pathways with this valuable project.”
Kelly Coffey, senior planner with the High Country Council of Governments and a Blue Ridge Conservancy board member, frequently hears about the need for more trails and greenways in the area.
“I always see people parked on the side of the road fishing in the Middle Fork, and it’s just not that accessible,” Coffey said. “Generally when a greenway is built, the demand will typically follow. In this case, the demand is there before the greenway is even established.”
The greenway could also provide economic benefits by increasing commerce along the corridor, said Eric Woolridge, director of tourism planning for the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority.
“We think, along with other community leaders, that it could become a significant economic development project for the two towns and the county,” he said.
Strong efforts and plenty of time have already been put into planning and fundraising for the Middle Fork Greenway, but Hall said the community partners that have supported the project will reap the benefits when the trail is in use.
“This greenway will attract visitors to the area, and it’s a step in the right direction to creating a healthier society,” Hall said. “Watauga County will be known not just as an outdoor mecca in North Carolina but throughout the entire Southeast.”