After several years of focusing on land acquisition, design, engineering, permitting and fundraising, the next section of the Middle Fork Greenway (MFG) is slated for construction in the spring of 2021. The MFG is the premier recreation project of Blue Ridge Conservancy (BRC), the regional land trust serving the seven northwest counties of North Carolina. The MFG will connect the towns of Boone and Blowing Rock, following the Middle Fork New River in the Highway 321 corridor.
The next mile of greenway trail will connect Niley Cook Road to Tweetsie Railroad. A portion of this trail will be paved surface and the remainder will be a natural surface trail. It includes two bridge crossings over the Middle Fork New River, a 29-space parking area off Highway 321, raingardens to capture stormwater runoff and an additional 8-space parking area off of Niley Cook Road. The final connection to Tweetsie Railroad will take approximately a year to complete as fundraising is still underway for a necessary underpass.
“It has been quite a challenge working with the topography and the river but the MFG team has done an amazing job of putting it all together, even down to the native plantings along the river,” said Wendy Patoprsty, MFG Project Director. “Working with Mosaic Civic Studio and the engineering team has been an exceptional experience, and we cannot wait to see their design concepts carried out in construction.”
“Middle Fork Greenway’s forward-thinking decision to acquire property on US 321 will provide for a highly visible trailhead and access point to what will become a signature High Country experience,” said Teresa Buckwalter, Design Principal at Mosaic Civic Studio in Boone, NC. Mosaic Civic Studio has provided design guidance along with Arete Engineers, Valor and Interface Environmental, including two steel truss bridges and a unique sitting area that will draw people off the busy highway and into a relaxed riverside setting before hitting the trail. The trailhead will also feature a rain garden to clean rainwater from the parking lot before it flows into the Middle Fork New River.
Many local community partners have collaborated to raise the funds needed for this section. Appalachian Ski Mtn’s Brad Moretz and Brenda Speckmann had a vision for a community wide Round-Up, which raised $200,000 in 2019 and inspired gifts of $100,000 from both Wells Fargo and Truist (formally BB&T). These private dollars will serve as matching funds for state grants from the NC Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF), the NC Division of Water Resources and the NC Recreational Trails Program.
“Watauga County TDA is pleased to partner with Blue Ridge Conservancy again on a public access project,” said Wright Tilley, Watauga TDA Executive Director. “Our board is focused on helping visitors and our community have safe access to outdoor recreation, and the Middle Fork Greenway a priority project that we are proud to support.” This section has become a reality through a partnership between Blue Ridge Conservancy and Watauga County, with each entity bringing specialized expertise and resources to the project.
The MFG is an example of how state funds can supplement local dollars to complete a project of this magnitude. “Since 1994, PARTF has worked with local governments to develop parks and improve communities across the state,” said Judy Francis, Recreation Resource Specialist at NC Division of Parks and Recreation. “Funds allocated by the General Assembly are distributed through an annual competitive grant process, and we are thrilled to see the Middle Fork Greenway gain momentum and have on-the-ground progress.”
The 1.2-mile section from the Trailhead in Blowing Rock to the Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge is fully funded, and the contracted engineers are working on final designs, alignment and permitting, with a construction goal of 2022-2023. This section will be completed in partnership with the Town of Blowing Rock, the Blue Ridge Parkway, private landowners, and many other community and state partners.
“We are beginning to see activity and progress along all six sections of the future Middle Fork Greenway,” said Charlie Brady, BRC Executive Director. “There is a clear path to completing the trail, but there are still many steps involved to connect Blowing Rock to Boone, naturally.”
There are many other BRC public access projects that promote healthy living and spending time in nature. For more information about BRC’s mission to protect land and natural resources in the High Country, visit www.blueridgeconservancy.org.