By Nathan Ham
The North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation released its final copy of the master plan for public review on June 23. The planning process was completed by E2 Landscape Architecture and is available for public comment through July 10.
Goals of the Planning Process
- Expand the park to further conserve important surrounding landscapes. This includes sensitive and priority habitats and lands that support the Division’s goals.
- Connect the park to the surrounding communities. Create a connection between the park and the surrounding mountain communities, both physically and through outreach and collaboration. Bring the community into the park by providing gathering spaces, event programming, and celebration of the local people and heritage.
- Celebrate and preserve the natural, cultural, and viewshed resources. Habitat is conserved for the rare and endangered species. Cultural resources are conserved. Important viewsheds are conserved as one of the most important assets of the park.
- Improve the park user’s experience through facilities. Increase the experience by providing visitor service facilities that will provide expanded education and research opportunities, heritage learning, and interpretation, all contained in environmentally-conscious facility design.
- Increase recreation access and connectivity, and enhance the unique existing opportunities. Incorporate the Northern Peaks State Trail, which will connect inaccessible areas. Establish hiking trails, elevate unique recreation activities such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Provide overnight accommodation and camping for visitors.
With those goals in mind, the new plan will include preserving 94 percent of the current park land with just six percent being used for park amenities. The new plan also includes approximately 11 miles of trails that will be included in the Northern Peaks State Trail and a total of 33 new miles of trails inside the park overall. Camping locations and a visitor’s center are included in the master plan.
The plan was put together after including numerous community partners in the process. Just a few of those partners included the Blue Ridge Hiking Club, Watauga County Planning Department, Elk Knob Community Heritage Organization, The Nature Conservancy, Catawba Valley Outdoor Club, Elk Knob Park Advisory Committee, Appalachian State Recreation Management Program, North Carolina Natural Heritage Program and the Blue Ridge Conservancy.