By Jesse Wood
June 17, 2014. Construction has begun for another subsection of the Middle Fork Greenway, a 6.5-mile hiking and bicycling trail that will eventually connect Boone and Blowing Rock.
Watauga County secured N.C. Department of Transportation funding from the Federal Highway Administration in the amount of $375,000 to construct a portion of the Middle Fork Greenway across easements granted by Mystery Hill, under U.S. 321 and onto property known as the future Sterling Creek Park.
This portion of trail, which is 1,965 feet in length, will connect to the 2,337 feet of paved greenway that was completed in 2012. That completed section runs past the Tweetsie Railroad theme park and is, so far, the only completed section of the Middle Fork Greenway.
In the master plan of the project, the Middle Fork Greenway is comprised of six sections:
Section 1: Blowing Rock
- Begins at future U.S. 321 parking area/Tanger Outlets and ends at the Planned Post Acute Care Facility near the bridge to the Blue Ridge Parkway
Section 2: Firethorn
- Begins at the Planned Post Acute Care Facility and ends at the FaithBridge United Methodist Church/Aho Road
Section 3: Three Rivers
- Begins at the FaithBridge United Methodist Church/Aho Road and ends at Sterling Creek Park
Section 4: Tweetsie
- Begins at Sterling Creek Park and ends at Goldmine Branch Park/Niley Cook Road
Section 5: Cook to Cook
- Begins at Goldmine Branch Park/Niley Cook Road and ends at Jordan V. Cook Road/Town of Boone Municipal Boundary
Section 6: Boone
- Begins at Jordan V. Cook Road/Town of Boone Municipal Boundary and ends at Boone Greenway Access/Deerfield Road
The section that is currently being constructed is a subsection within “Section 4: Tweetsie,” which is 9,100 feet or 1.75 miles in total length.
Once funding was secured, Watauga County bid out the project earlier this year. In April, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners awarded a contract to J.W. Hampton Company to build this portion of the Middle Fork Greenway. J.W. Hampton Company’s bid came in at $350,616 – or $42,000 cheaper than the next bid by Greene Construction. The commissioners also approved a contract with Vaughn and Melton for engineering and construction administration of the project for no more than $38,000.
Because the two contracts cost more than the funding available, High Country Pathways, a nonprofit that has a mission to “plan, develop and ensure the stewardship of trails, greenways and blueways” in the High Country, agreed to fund any amount that exceeds the $375,000.
Wayne Underwood, owner of Mystery Hill, granted an easement for the trail between its parking area and the Middle Fork of the New River. Underwood mentioned that he is excited about the project and happy to see it moving along.
“Well, we’ve been working on it for 15 years and its finally coming together. Of course, Tweetsie got the section finished down there last year, and we’re excited about getting this section finished, and then the park just across the street from us will be really nice once it’s all put together. It will be a place to have some activity with things going on and people walking the greenway, enjoying the river, fishing, getting some exercise,” Underwood said. “So, we are excited about getting it done.”
Underwood added that once some more sections of the greenway are finalized, then perhaps other landowners along the proposed Middle Fork Greenway will see the value and beauty of this project and want to, as Underwood said, “participate and give easements” along the proposed route.
Such property owners that didn’t need coaxing was Sterling and Barbara Whitener. They bought a parcel of property, which includes what will eventually become the 3.7-acre Sterling Creek Park, in 1950 and built a small cottage on their land. Anne Burgess, secretary of the Middle Fork Greenway Association, said that the Whiteners were “eager” to become involved in the project from the very beginning.
“They loved nature’s bounty and wanted to share it with the public,” Burgess said.
Burgess said the project’s completion is dependent on funding and procurement of eases and permits for engineering and construction. Plenty of easements are required to be able to start and finish all 6.5 miles of the Middle Fork Greenway. When talking about the easements, Burgess echoed comments by Underwood.
“We are hoping with each section constructed, people will become more aware of what we are doing and they will appreciate the benefits of the project. Each section is a microcosm of the whole trail. We hope to display demonstration sections and hope people appreciate the whole project that will let us walk from Blowing Rock to Boone and all the way to Todd,” Burgess said. “Wouldn’t that be great? I can’t wait.”
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.