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Image courtesy of Destination by Design.

Originally published: 2013-08-28 12:22:30
Last modified: 2013-08-28 12:25:29

Middle Fork Greenway master plan unveiled

Supporters of the planned Middle Fork Greenway got a first glance Tuesday at a master plan for the bike and pedestrian trail that aims to connect Blowing Rock to Boone.

Eric Woolridge, a planner with Destination by Design and member of the Middle Fork Greenway Association board, presented an overview of the proposed trail, which would encompass about seven miles of the Middle Fork of the New River.

The trail would start in Blowing Rock near Tanger Outlets and conclude by connecting to the Boone Greenway Trail on Deerfield Road. The 10-foot-wide, paved trail would stop at three "pocket parks," one of which already has been established.

Woolridge dissected the trail into six sections, offering two trail options in each section. Route A, he said, would be more feasible, while Route B would be more scenic but more difficult to construct.

"The preference is to always stay off U.S. 321 and to stay as close to the Middle Fork river as possible," he said.

Section 1 winds from Shoppes on the Parkway, behind the town water plant to the planned new Appalachian Regional Healthcare System hospital.

Section 2 stretches from the new hospital by the Firethorn community, behind the trash convenience center to Faithbridge United Methodist Church at Aho Road. Woolridge noted that the hospital system is on board with the project but that association members will need to speak with Firethorn property owners unless they want the path to follow the highway.

Section 3 runs from Faithbridge United Methodist Church near Three Rivers Building Supply to the proposed Sterling Creek Park, a 3.7-acre property donated by Barbara and Sterling Whitener.

Section 4 will progress the trail through a culvert beneath the road to Mystery Hill, Tweetsie Railroad and to the future Goldmine Branch Park at Niley Cook Road.

Woolridge said the funding and engineering is already completed for this section, and bidding on that phase is slated to occur in February. A ribbon-cutting was held in April for a small portion of trail constructed on Tweetsie Railroad's property.

Section 5, called "Cook to Cook," goes from the park at Niley Cook Road to Jordan V. Cook Road, which marks the town of Boone boundary. The fifth section may include very challenging culvert underpasses, Woolridge said.

Section 6 concludes the trail by turning on Deerfield Road, passing by Watauga Medical Center and connecting to the existing Boone Greenway parking area.

Woolridge stressed that the key to the project was voluntary landowner commitments, which would allow the trail to remain away from highway right-of-ways and along more scenic routes.

"The next section that we hope to work on is what's called the Blowing Rock section," said Bill Hall, a member of the Middle Fork Greenway Association.

Woolridge announced Tuesday to applause and cheers that the association has received a $50,000 grant from the Appalachian District Health Department to conduct preliminary engineering work on the Blowing Rock section, which represents 22 percent of the trail.

"This stands to be a pretty stunning section of trail once it's built," Woolridge said.

Tuesday's presentation touched only briefly on funding, and Woolridge noted that a financial plan will be another critical next step. He said federal money dispersed through the state for bicycle and pedestrian project would be important, but it will also require local money and special grants to be successful.

While there's much left to do, Woolridge touted the efforts made thus far. The group has secured between $500,000 and $550,000 in grants, has established or planned for three small parks and has opened a first section of path at Tweetsie Railroad.

The Middle Fork Greenway Association is used to slow and steady progress. The volunteer group formed in 2000 with the goal of improving residents' connections to one another and to the natural world. It is now part of High Country Pathways, a regional trail organization.

Virginia Powell, who described herself as a "cheerleader" for the greenway, encouraged those who attended the presentation Tuesday at Bistro Roca to donate, to lean on officials for help and to bring attention to the project.

"This is a small town," Powell said. "We can get this done."

Visit to view the entire master plan.