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Boone TDA Shares New Master Plan for Howard Knob Redevelopment

By Nathan Ham

The Boone Tourism Development Authority has added another project to its continually growing list of ways to invest in tourism in Watauga County.

The TDA recently released its Howard Knob Master Plan for redeveloping the park that stands high above downtown Boone.

“This came out of the discussion that started a couple years ago about the Northern Peaks Trail, and the interest by some in the area of trying to get a new state trail designation for the Northern Peaks Trail that would ultimately connect Watauga and Ashe like a mini Appalachian Trail,” said Wright Tilley, the Executive Director of the Boone and Watauga TDA. “Howard Knob would be an anchor point of that, so that started the discussion of having a great resource up there that has not gotten a lot of attention lately and needs some cleaning up, maintenance work and refurbishing.”

The Northern Peaks Trail idea came about in 2017 with a collaboration between the Watauga County TDA, Ashe County Chamber of Commerce, West Jefferson TDA, Town of Boone, North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation and High Country Pathways, Inc., that would connect hikers directly from downtown Boone to downtown West Jefferson and Mount Jefferson in Ashe County.

The Howard Knob project is certainly in its early phases, but building the master plan is an early start to getting grants and building public interest for the project.

“This is a starting point for that. We hired Destination by Design to come up with a master plan. They helped facilitate a cleanup day up there with some local volunteers. We had a task force together of different folks that would be interested in Howard Knob,” said Tilley. “What’s out there right now is open for public comment. The plan is to have that up and get the word out.”

The Middle Fork Greenway, the Howard Street Project, the upcoming wayfinding signage project and the Howard Knob Redevelopment project are some of the major tourism investment projects that the Boone TDA is working on.

“From there we will meet with our board to try and prioritize projects. We will meet with county administration and county commissioners about their interest. There’s a couple of grants that we feel like we can go after in the future,” Tilley said.

The Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant is one of those. The Middle Fork Greenway just got that grant this year.

“It may be a year or two before we can go after that grant,” Tilley added. “The Middle Fork Greenway is probably our top priority and we won’t do anything to jeopardize grants for that project. We are all on the same page, the county and the TDA want to make sure that the Middle Fork Greenway is the number one priority.”

Some grants, such as that parks and recreation grant, would have to be applied for by the county.

For the Howard Knob project, some of the key aspects of the plan include cleaning up the existing facilities as well as cleaning up the picnic areas and most likely putting new picnic tables out there and designing a new deck.

“The view up there is probably the number one thing. People want to get that overlook view of Boone,” said Tilley.

In addition to that, Tilley hopes that part of the project will include putting a fire tower or building some sort of tower for people to get an even better look from higher up.

“Places across the country are selling off old fire towers. Destination by Design took a drone and flew it up above the tree canopy, which led to the discussion about building something high enough above the tree canopy for people to see the 360-degree view,” said Tilley. “I don’t know if it will come to fruition or not but it’s something we’re going to look at.”

The elevation and wintry weather in the High Country will also play a role in exactly when the park will be open and how it can be accessed. Currently there is just one road to the top and the park closes at the end of October and reopens in May.

While the project is still in the infancy phases, having a plan like this already put together is important.

“The biggest thing is that people ask us why we invest in the master plans if we’re not ready to jump right into the project. It comes down to having grant-ready projects,” Tilley said. “We have to stay ahead of the curve with having the master plans and going back and doing a multi-year prioritization. It gives us a competitive advantage for some of these grants.”

The Watauga County TDA board meets the second Tuesday of every month except December and July at 8:30 a.m. in the ground floor conference room of the Watauga County Administration Building. The Boone TDA meets six times a year and they typically meet the third Wednesday in the afternoon rotating around the numerous hotel conference rooms available in Boone.

The Howard Knob Master Plan can be found here