By Joe Wiswell
If you haven’t heard of the plans to build a new section of Greenway between Boone and Blowing Rock, by the end of this July you probably will. That’s because this July a huge coalition of 118 local businesses in Boone and Blowing Rock have teamed up for the Round Up For The Middle Fork Greenway fundraiser. During the month of July many businesses in Boone and Blowing Rock will be asking customers if they’d like to round up their purchases to the nearest dollar and donate the change to the Middle Fork Greenway. The goal is to raise $100,000 to be leveraged for state grants.
The new Middle Fork Greenway is planned to be 6.5 miles long, running from the current greenway beside the Watauga Medical Center to the outskirts of Blowing Rock. One mile of the Middle Fork Greenway is already completed, with another 1.3 miles funded and ready to go in Blowing Rock and 2.2 miles being planned out. The money raised this July will go to building the a section that starts at a trailhead just before the 321 turn-off into Blowing Rock, and goes north past the Blue Ridge Parkway. The route will connect together important tourist attractions like Tweetsie Railroad, Mystery Hill, the Parkway, and the Tanger Outlets. It will offer a new way to travel one of the High Country’s most important economic corridors. In the future it will be possible to spend a day riding a bike or walking from one business and adventure to the next.
The Middle Fork Greenway is expected to see 38,000 visits annually, which will provide a variety of benefits to the High Country Community. The increased recreation opportunities will help improve the health of the local community and save around $1 million in health related expenses annually. The new section of greenway is expected to bring more tourists to the area and keep them here long, generating $6 million in tourism dollars annually. This will also encourage the development of new businesses along the 321 corridor, and help foster a better sense of local community.
Another part of the Middle Fork Greenway project is a Watershed Restoration Plan, an effort to shore-up the Middle Fork River’s banks and provide a good aquatic habitat for local wildlife. That wildlife includes local trout, which are the key to the $300 million trout fishing tourism industry in Western North Carolina. All in all, the Middle Fork Greenway will help make the the High Country a better place for both people and wildlife to live.
The idea for the Middle Fork Greenway first emerged in the late 1990s when people along the Middle Fork, and Highway 321, began to reflect on how their lives had changed and how they could be improved. They decided that their sense of community would be stronger and health would be better if they began to move away from a car-only culture and re-emphasize walking as a way of getting around and visiting nearby neighbors. That kind of low-speed local community had been given up in the 1970s when 321 was expanded to a four-lane highway. In the 1990s, local residents decided it was time to bring back the best of a low-speed culture.
These residents formed the Middle Fork Greenway Association, a nonprofit that conducted a few studies and built a couple of pocket parks during the 2000s. Things began to pick up pace in 2010 when the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority recognized the Middle Fork Greenway as a development priority. In 2011, High Country Pathways and the Middle Fork Greenway Association merged, and in 2012 Tweetsie Railroad built the first, one-mile stretch of the trail along its property. In recent years the Blue Ridge Conservancy joined the project and more and more grant money has been secured.
The Round Up For The Middle Fork Greenway campaign will be an important step in the Middle Fork Greenway’s development. Pitching in is easy, just shop at any of the 118 participating businesses and Round Up at check-out.
For more information visit the extensive website https://www.middleforkgreenway.org/.
Update: Nowadays the Middle Fork Greenway is the Blue Ridge Conservancy’s flagship project. This article erroneously implies that the Blue Ridge Conservancy is only a marginal part of the Middle Fork project. Instead, Blue Ridge Conservancy is central to the development of the Middle Fork and this month’s Round Up Campaign. For more information see the Blue Ridge Conservancy’s website https://blueridgeconservancy.