By Nathan Ham
Boone and Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce as well as local business leaders and project supporters came to Appalachian Ski Mountain on Monday to hear about the progress of the Middle Fork Greenway Project.
The Blue Ridge Conservancy has spearheaded the project that will eventually connect to the existing Boone Greenway.
The Middle Fork Greenway is designed to follow along the Middle Fork of the New River and connect Blowing Rock to Boone.
“When it is complete, it will be 6.5 miles long and you won’t have to worry about vehicles. It’s going to be very wonderful for all the adults and children to enjoy,” said Wendy Patoprsty, the Middle Fork Greenway Project Director. “As you leave Blowing Rock, it’s going to connect you to Shops on the P arkway, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Mountains to Sea Trail and all of the tourist attractions along the way. As you get to Boone, it will connect to the existing 5.5 miles of Boone Greenway to make it about a 12-mile trail system.”
According to Patoprsty, the project is waiting to hear back on over $800,000 in grant money and they will find out in the fall whether or not the project will receive any of that money.
“This greenway is going to outlive all of us in this room. It is truly going to be a legacy project. It’s going to transform our community’s health, our community’s well-being and the way of life today and for generations to come,” Patoprsty said. “It’s not just a trail for recreation and exercise, it’s a trail that goes somewhere. It connects our communities, our neighbors, our businesses, our visitors and our residents to each other and to nature.”
Blowing Rock Town Manager, Ed Evans, also spoke on the importance of the Middle Fork Greenway to the Blowing Rock area.
“I came in at a time in Blowing Rock when a lot of these things, the wheels were already in motion. Our town council, previous staff leadership, they saw that goal that you see and they had the opportunities to apply for grants,” Evans said.
Blowing Rock did receive two grants that the town previously applied for, one for the Middle Fork Greenway and the other for the Bass Lake sidewalk project.
“It’s exciting to me, I’m very happy Blowing Rock is involved in this and we were able to secure the funding. I’m hoping that, as a team, all of us together, that we will catch that vision and move forward and try to make this a reality, not 20 years from now, not 10 years from not, but two, three, four or five years from now,” Evans added. “It has to be teamwork from here on out to obtain the goals that have been set.”
Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Charles Hardin echoed those same sentiments on what the Middle Fork Greenway can add to the area.
“This Middle Fork Greenway will be the spine of this economic prosperity zone between the two towns. Nobody particularly wants a whole lot of industrial development along Highway 321. I think most of the folks that are part of this group are thinking that it’s about recreation and outdoor recreational tourism. The Middle Fork Greenway is an essential part in that role,” Hardin said.
Small shops, coffee houses and ice cream shops are some of the business ideas that have been thrown around that could link directly to the Middle Fork Greenway once it is completed.
“It’s certainly a very important economic development project that’s going on in our area,” said David Jackson, the President/CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s very well-supported, not only in the business community where we can reap economic benefits, but also in terms of our health and wellness here in Watauga County, giving folks another creative way and creative means to get outside and enjoy our beautiful area.
Chuck Mantooth, the President/CEO of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System spoke briefly on the important health benefits that a project like this will provide.
“We’re investing in things to keep people healthy. This is really a moment in time we should all be proud of that will live on beyond our time here. This is something communities and generations to come will benefit from,” Mantooth said.
To make this project completion possible, an additional $9 to $10 million is needed, so fundraising and community support will be at the utmost importance.
“We participated all season long by adding a $1 online transaction fee, we were able to raise several thousand dollars for the Greenway doing that. That’s something we are intending to do for some time,” said Brad Moretz, the General Manager at Appalachian Ski Mountain.
This July, a Middle Fork Greenway Round Up fundraiser will be taking place where local businesses will ask patrons to “round up” their purchase to the next dollar to donate to the project. Customers can also make donations of any amount with all proceeds going to the Middle Park Greenway Project.
“We think we’ve got a lot of potential in this fundraiser. This effort is really a call to action for all of our businesses and we hope you’ll help us spread the word so that we can accomplish something that our children and grandchildren will enjoy, and something that will connect a lot of recreational opportunities,” Moretz said.
A couple of fundraising events coming up before the month of July include a VFW fundraiser at Wahoos Adventures on June 24 with 100 percent of funds raised going to the Greenway. This is the fourth annual Middle Fork Greenway fundraiser that Wahoos Adventures has been a part of. There will also be a Middle Fork Greenway Round Up kickoff event on June 28 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Village Cafe in Blowing Rock.
An economic impact study on the Middle Fork Greenway Project was completed by NC State University that estimated there could be as many as 12,000 annual tourist trips to the area that would generate $6 million in the local economy. The report also indicated that health benefits could exceed $10 million and property values would increase by as much as 9.5 percent. Overall, the study estimated that over 38,000 trips would be made to the Middle Fork Greenway by residents and tourists combined.
For more information on the project or to donate online, visit the project’s website at www.middleforkgreenway.org.