River access improvements still a possibility
by Kellen Short
Two improved New River accesses still may be constructed despite a vote last month by the Tourism Development Authority to turn down the grant funding the project.
The TDA board voted 2-2 in August, with two members absent, on whether to accept a $75,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration's Recreational Trails Program. The split vote, by TDA rules, was treated as a failure.
The grant was intended to create canoe/kayak launches at the Pine Run Road bridge and Green Valley Park, as well as additional parking, informational kiosks and a walking loop at the park. It would have required an $18,750 match from the TDA.
TDA Director Wright Tilley said last month that some board members were concerned about the required match and about the authority being obligated for long-term maintenance of the sites.
Green Valley Park, a nonprofit agency, wrote a letter Aug. 19 asking the TDA to substitute its name on the grant so the project could move forward.
Park President Tim Hagaman said his board was surprised the TDA didn't approve the grant, which has been in the works since before January 2012.
"It was in the TDA's budget, and we thought everything was going to go through them, so we were a little surprised when they turned it down," he said.
The TDA agreed with the Green Valley Park proposal and voted 4-1 at its meeting Tuesday to send a letter to the grantor indicating its wishes. TDA Vice Chairman Tony Gray, who originally voted to accept the grant funding, voted against sending the letter. Chairman Matt Vincent and board members Connie Baird, Jim Neustadt and Kim Rogers voted for, and Sonya Garland was absent.
Green Valley Park would be responsible for the matching funds, execution and oversight of the project, and all future maintenance, the letter states.
"Since Green Valley Park Inc. is interested in taking over the project, we encourage your organization to re-issue the paperwork in their name," the letter states. "Once the project is completed, the WCTDA will work diligently to market and promote the paddle accesses to visitors to Watauga County."
Hagaman said the proposal would go before the Watauga County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday and would need state approval, too.
During later discussion in the TDA meeting, some board members indicated they weren't certain whether such recreation-focused projects were valuable in promoting and improving tourism overall.
"I don't think it's been proven," Baird said, saying taxpayers ought to vote on whether they wanted their money to maintain recreational initiatives.
Rogers countered that TDA money comes from the occupancy tax, so "the ones who paid this tax don't live here."
"We need to get done and get started on some things that really promote tourism," Rogers said.