By Jesse Wood
Recreation enthusiasts can cross one major piece of the ambitious New River Headwaters Trail, which is a long-term greenway project that will eventually connect Todd, Boone and Blowing Rock, off their list.
On Monday, April 18, at 4 p.m., stakeholders and the community will hold a dedication ceremony to celebrate the official opening of the greenway underpass at U.S. 421 near Brookshire Park. In addition to the underpass, roughly 2,000 feet of greenway was constructed to connect Brookshire Park to the New River paddle access on the other side of the highway.
Currently, this provides for an informal connection from Brookshire Park to the Boone Greenway via New River Hills Road and allows hikers and cyclists an opportunity to connect to the existing pathways at and adjacent to Brookshire Park without having to navigate the four-lane highway.
“Eventually the connection will be made to the anticipated South Fork Greenway to Todd. Future plans include a more formal connection to the Boone Greenway, which in turn will connect to the Middle Fork Greenway, in progress providing a path to Blowing Rock,” according to Boone Chamber announcement of the April 18 grand opening.
John Lanman, president of High Country Pathways, a local nonprofit striving to the connect the High Country through a network of trails, said that while the U.S. 421 underpass is a major transportation connection allowing for safe passage across the highway, in the “broader sense” it contributes to the headier goal of connecting Blowing Rock, Boone and Todd together.
Lanman credited this project as a “Watauga County” government project.
Initiated by Watauga County Tourism Development Authority, this project was carried out by Watauga County with contracts awarded to McGill Associates, Vaughn & Melton Consulting Engineers and Greene Construction.
Watauga County Planning Director Joe Furman said that the construction contract came out to $587,014 after change orders, and the total cost of the project, including design, permitting and construction administration and inspection, came out to $666,006.
But of that total, $630,000 came from federal and state grants, primarily from the Federal Highway Administration with matching funds from N.C. Department of Transportation.
“The county is making up the difference, but is receiving sales tax reimbursement plus reimbursement of a portion of the engineering design fees, together totaling $13,788.46. So, in the end, the county’s share will be roughly $22,000,” Furman wrote in an email.
Furman said that all there is left to do is the installation of some fencing and a few punch list items. This all is planned on being completed before the ribbon cutting on April 18.
The public is invited, and High Country Pathways and Blue Ridge Conservancy will provide refreshments. For more information, contact Joe Furman at 828-265-8043.