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Originally published: 2012-12-18 17:55:22
Last modified: 2012-12-18 17:59:24

Water park gets master plan approval

By summer 2014, High Country residents and visitors may be zipping down waterslides and putt-putting to their hearts’ content at the Middle Fork Falls Resort.

The resort received master plan approval Monday from the Watauga County Planning Board, allowing developer Steve Moberg to continue with plans for a waterpark, hotel and conference center, 50 rental cabins, restaurants and shopping.

While numerous steps must be completed before construction begins — including simply closing on the property between Boone and Blowing Rock — Moberg said he is excited to see the idea becoming reality.

“It will be a fun thing for the High Country,” Moberg said.

A self-proclaimed “dreamer,” Moberg has worked in development in western North Carolina for almost 40 years. His father, architect Claus Moberg, designed many of the buildings at Hound Ears and Elk River.

He said the idea for the water park hit him in January while visiting another indoor water park with his son, seventh-grader Satchel Moberg, and family friends.

“I just said, ‘Why don’t we have one of these in Blowing Rock or Boone?’” Moberg said. “So that’s how the idea got rolling.”

That spark has morphed into a roughly 60,000-square-foot clear polycarbonate enclosure with partially retractable roof. The water park is slated to include five slides, a lazy river, wave pool and “splash bowl,” a sort of water funnel for humans, Moberg said. A central pool will include a basketball hoop and ropes course.

The park, which will be a salt-treated system as opposed to chlorine, also will include a splash area for babies and young children and an adults-only cabana section, complete with WiFi, flat screen televisions, drinks and food.

On the second floor, a mini-golf course and concession area will overlook the park below.

Moberg said he hopes the park also will host indoor concerts that guests can enjoy while swimming or sitting alongside the pool.

Adjoining the water park will be a hotel with conference center, which Moberg said will fill in nicely where the now-closed Broyhill Inn left off. Moberg noted that guests will not have to stay overnight to access the water park.

Moberg tentatively expects to offer water park day passes for about $25 to $30, he said.

He also plans to situate a restaurant and retail space alongside the hotel, as well as an additional restaurant on a parcel close to Tweetsie Railroad.

The development also is expected to include 50 two-bed, two-bath rental cabins tucked behind a hill for longer-term stays, he said.

The entire resort will be built with heavy timbers, stone and cedar shake to give it a mountain feel, Moberg said.

“We’re going to be one of the few year-round resorts in the High Country,” he said. “Most of the resorts are seasonal here.”

All told, Middle Fork Falls Resort is expected to create 300 to 400 jobs and will be valued at $38 to $40 million, Moberg said. The project will not be contingent upon bank financing, he said.

Moberg expects to break ground in April 2013 and open the following summer.

But first, he has to complete the land purchase.

His target is a 44-acre parcel off U.S. 321 between Tweetsie Railroad and Mystery Hill, most of which is currently owned by the railroad attraction.

Chris Robbins, president of Tweetsie Railroad, said his family and Moberg’s had been friends for years, and he was intrigued when Moberg presented the project idea over dinner one night.

Robbins said Tweetsie dreamed of creating a similar project on the space, but the timing was never right. Instead, he placed the property on the market in 2008.

Robbins said he believes the success of the Middle Fork Falls Resort will spill over to Tweetsie, and the proceeds from the property sale will allow the Wild West theme park to expand the add more attractions in the coming years.

“I think it’ll be good for Tweetsie. It’ll be good for the county,” Robbins said. “It’s exactly what we wanted to see next door.”

Members of the Planning Board asked a handful of questions about the project before voting 6-0 in favor of master plan approval Monday.

Project engineer Patrick Warren of Warren Consulting and Design presented the specifics on parking, road access, wetlands mitigation and water, which will come from two to three wells to be dug on the property.

Warren said an agreement had been reached for Middle Fork Falls and Tweetsie to share parking.

Planning and Inspections Director Joe Furman laid out a list of conditions that must be met. Those include permits for driveway connections, water and sewer permits, and compliance with several county ordinances, including the rarely used High Impact Land Use Ordinance.

Kim Raymond, Moberg’s business partner, said she expects the project to be a boon for Watauga County.

“Everyone realizes that this is positive for the whole community,” she said.

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