Health, Economic and Recreation Leaders Talk Shop at High Country Recreation Summit

Published Friday, April 24, 2015 at 11:59 am
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Watauga TDA Director Wright Tilley spoke about the economic benefits of recreation at the summit. Photos by Jesse Wood

By Jesse Wood

The High Country is known for its world-class outdoor adventure opportunities and, because five years have passed since the previous Outdoor Recreation Summit, it was time to step back and reevaluate where things on that front stand today.

So on Thursday evening, the Appalachian State University Recreation management program, ASU Council for Outdoor Recreation Educators, Destination by Design and the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority (TDA) held the High Country Recreation Summit on Thursday afternoon.

The event featured speakers from the TDA, High Country Recreation, Middle Fork Greenway Association and the Appalachian District Health Department who talked about the economic and health benefits of recreation.

TDA’s Outdoor Adventure Theme

Eric Woolridge of Destination By Design emceed the event. He noted that it had been 1,788 days since the 2010 summit and that since that time, more than $4 million has been “pumped into outdoor recreation infrastructure.”

“I just feel like we are now getting started in so many ways,” Woolridge said.

Woolridge introduced the first speaker, TDA Executive Director Wright Tilley. The TDA is funded by an occupancy tax on lodging in the county, where two-thirds of the revenue goes to marketing the area and one-third goes to capital infrastructure projects related to tourism.

Tilley noted that since that first Outdoor Recreation Summit, the TDA helped to fund the Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park, Watauga Gorge Park, Holloway Mountain/Blue Ridge Parkway parking lot, Green Valley Park, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and the Middle Fork Greenway.

Projects like Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park, Holloway Mountain parking lot and the Watauga Gorge Park were funded with TDA funds that were leveraged to receive grant funds and were also projects that came out of the 2010 summit.

“We hope to be able to find other projects like that to do,” Tilley said. “Where we are headed is we are looking for outdoor recreation projects that attract visitors to the area first and foremost because this is our mission at the TDA.

Tilley said, however, that locals in the community get to enjoy these opportunities year round. Tilley also mentioned the new marketing campaign that focuses on outdoor adventure: “Step Outside Yourself” and the Outside Magazine competition, where Boone is competing for “Best Town.”

“We are heavily invested in outdoor recreation and the natural beauty of the outdoors because that is what we are known for. Those are our assets. That’s what we are selling, and we will continue in that direction.”

Recreation Center

One notable difference from the 2010 summit and this one was the inclusion of indoor recreation, which is where Dr. Scott St. Clair, president of High Country Recreation, comes in.

St. Clair has been working hard over the years, trying to get a recreation center built in Watauga County. St. Claire noted that a recreation center was identified as a need by both the Town of Boone and Watauga County officials in previous plans, yet the area still doesn’t have a recreation center.

St. Claire mentioned that for the 26 counties of comparable size to Watauga in the state, only Franklin County doesn’t have a recreation center. But, as St. Claire pointed out, Franklin County is located within the Raleigh Metropolitan Statistical Area and its residents have multiple nearby recreation centers to frequent.

St. Claire, a pediatrician, spoke to the mental, physical and social health benefits of exercise and recreational activities – whether that be indoors or outdoors. With the extended winter season of the High Country, outdoor recreation isn’t practical for children for a big chunk of the year. He also preached about the economic benefits such a facility can have on a community.

He has been in talks with Watauga County officials about turning the swimming complex, which has been a money pit for years because of constant repairs, location into the site for a future recreation center. There is also an adjacent property that ASU owns, and he hopes that Watauga County, the Town of Boone and ASU can work together to make this recreation center a reality.

St. Claire ended his speech by noting that this idea of a recreation center shouldn’t pit the urban townies versus the rural folks out in the county; the young against the old; nor the Republicans versus the Democrats.

Middle Fork Greenway

Ann Browning, executive director of the Middle Fork Greenway, gave an update on the paved trail project that will connect Boone and Blowing Rock.

This trail will be a part of the New River Headwaters Trail, a network of three trails – Middle Fork Greenway, Boone Greenway and South Fork Greenway – connecting Boone, Blowing Rock and Todd. New River Headwaters Trail is a project of High Country Pathways.

The Middle Fork Greenway is a collaboration between the Middle Fork Greenway Association, Blue Ridge Conservancy and High Country Pathways – along with other community and local government partners.

For more about the Middle Fork Greenway project, click here and view the master plan of the project here. For more information about the Middle Fork Greenway Association, click here.

She also mentioned the recent Easter weekend fundraiser that Appalachian Ski Mtn. spearhead and more than 50 businesses participated in. The fundraiser raised more than $48,000 to go towards planning, land purchasing and construction of the Middle Fork Greenway.

Recreation Breeds Healthy Citizens

The last speaker was Jennifer Greene, director of Allied Services with the Appalachian District Health Department. Greene talked about the health benefits of recreation.

She noted that 60 percent of Watauga County adults are overweight and obese; one-third of low-income 2-4 year olds in the state are overweight and obese; and that one-third of Western North Carolina adults have at least one chronic disease.

“We are not just sick. We are really sick,” Greene said.

She mentioned that between 2009 and 2013, 62 percent of all deaths were from patients with chronic disease that was preventable and that 25 percent of those folks reported no physical activity in the past month.

She alluded to the disappearance of “free-range” kids and how recreation activities can help curb this gap. She ended her presentation quoting Dr. Suess: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot. Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Recreation Leader Awards

After the speakers, Recreation Leader Awards for Outstanding Public Service were handed out to several individuals and one group for “moving the needle” on recreation in the High Country.

Brenda Speckmann of Appalachian Ski Mountain accepted an award on behalf of the resort for its work in the Middle Fork Greenway fundraiser.

Danny Wilcox accepted an award on behalf of Appalachian Mountain Brewery for its endless support of nonprofits and charities, some of which, of course, are involved in recreation, such as, for example, Blood Sweat and Gears.

Jennifer Greene, director of Allied Services with the Appalachian District Health Department, received one of the two public sector awards.

Watauga County Planning Director Joe Furman received the other public-sector award for his work on managing grant funds for a section on the Middle Fork Greenway and the U.S. 421 underpass greenway project near Brookshire Park.

A number of folks with Middle Fork Greenway Association accepted the Superb Organizational Advancement Award for “developing a strategic alliance” and for their solid work on the greenway trail in between Boone and Blowing Rock.

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Moving forward, recreation students at ASU will compile a report that will feature a synthesization of survey results from the summit, conversation spurred between group interactions after the awards ceremony and more. Then a report will be sent to local elected officials.

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Jennifer Greene, director of Allied Health Services at Appalachian District Health Department, was presented with a Recreation Leadership Award at the rec summit for promoting the health benefits of recreation.

 

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Watauga County Manager (third from left) looks at the Town of Boone’s greenway plans at the rec summit.

 

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ASU’s CAMP UREC had a booth at the rec summit.

 

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Boone Town Councilman Quint David speaks to citizens at the rec summit.

 

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Danny Wilcox accepted Appalachian Mountain Brewery’s Recreation Leadership Award that was presented at the rec summit.

 

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High Country Nordic Association had a booth at the rec summit.

 

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Mountain Alliance had a booth at the rec summit.

 

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Boone Climbers’ Coalition had a booth at the rec summit.

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Watauga County Planning Director Joe Furman (left) was presented with a Recreation Leadership Award for his work on greenways in the county. Standing to Furman’s right is Kristian Jackson, trail boss for Rocky Knob Mountain Bike park and Eric Woolridge, a partner with the planning firm Destination by Design.

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The Middle Fork Greenway representatives were presented with a Recreation Leadership Award.

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Appalachian Ski Mtn. (Brenda Speckmann), Appalachian Mountain Brewery (Danny Wilcox), Watauga County Planning Director Joe Furman and Jennifer Greene, director of Allied Health Services at Appalachian District Health Department, was presented with a Recreation Leadership Award at the summit for promoting recreation in the High Country.

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Appalachian Voices had a booth at the summit.

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Appalachian Ski Mtn.’s Brenda Speckmann accepted an award on behalf of the resort for spearheading the Middle Fork Greenway fundraiser that netted nearly $50,000 during the Easter holiday.

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Elk Knob State Park had a representative at the summit.

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The rec summit was held in the gymnasium of the Boone United Methodist Church on Thursday evening.

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