By Colby Gable
Yesterday, Blue Ridge Conservancy with its partners like the town of Blowing Rock, New River Conservancy, Watauga County, and local community businesses, revealed the trailhead for their new Middle Fork Greenway path. While funding for the Greenway path has come through a variety of sources, it has been a main part of the NCDOT Hwy 321 widening project, so all infrastructure used for construction was provided by the NCDOT. Mike Pettyjohn, NCDOT District Engineer, commented a little about the importance of the project from the state’s point of view, saying, “Whenever possible, the NCDOT supports pedestrian infrastructure in our community projects. It’s one of the most cost-effective ways to get these capital projects completed.”
Section 1 of the pathway includes the 1.2 mile long route from the trailhead through The Foley Center, was aligned, engineered, designed, and permitted, by Withers Ravenel hired by the Town of Blowing Rock. While the 1.2 mile section is currently undergoing further work, construction and bidding for the project will be expected to begin in the summer of 2020. This particular section has been funded by a federal grant for $1.8 million, and a 20% match requirement had come from a variety of local and state sources including the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority, a grant from the state of NC, and NCDOT.
Administrative expenses for the project have been supported by ZAP Endurance. Zika Rea, ZAP Endurance President and Blue Ridge Conservancy Chair, talked about why she assists the Middle Fork Greenway, saying “I think about my values – and what I want to teach my kids – and that is no matter what you’re doing, you have a responsibility to make where you live better, and I believe the Greenway will make our community better.
After the Town of Blowing Rock funded an economic case study by NC State’s Institute for Transportation, Research, and Education, the Middle Fork Grenway is estimated to generate $6 million towards the local economy and provide an estimated $10 in health benefits (value of extended life over 10 years), $1 million in business activity benefits, and 12 new jobs that support 276,300 in labor income. This information is certainly encouraging for foundations, donors, or statewide resources to consider supporting projects such as the Middle Fork Greenway. The 2019 Round-Up was an example of the local support already being seen for the trailhead, as 130 businesses and 83 individuals came together to raise $200,000 which will be allocated for Section 4 (from Niley Cook Rd to the existing section at Tweetsie Railroad.)
This outpour among the community inspired the Wells Fargo Foundation to donate an additional $100,000, as the VP and Relation Manager for Commercial Banking at Wells Fargo, Christy Perry mentioned, “The Wells Fargo Community Giving Grant Program has a long legacy of supporting community projects that enhance environmental sustainability. When complete, the Middle Fork Greenway will provide a healthier corridor for people and wildlife along the Middle Fork River, and we are thrilled to be a partner on the project.”
For directions to various sections of the trail visit https://www.middleforkgreenway.org/directions
And for more information on the project, contact Wendy Patoprsty, Middle Fork Greenway Director at the Blue Ridge Conservancy at 828-264-2511.