By Jesse Wood
May 22, 2014. A grand opening of the Boone United Trail takes place on Saturday, June 7, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event includes free barbecue, bounce houses, guided hikes and a noon ribbon cutting at Boone United Methodist Church, located at 471 New Market Blvd.
Boone United Trail is a 2.5-mile loop through a hardwood forest that begins behind the church, rambles halfway up the summit of Howard’s Knob and returns to the church.
While the trail building began two years ago on the American Hiking Society’s annual National Trails Day in June, this journey actually began many years earlier when three gentlemen – Joe Miller, Grayden Eggers and Larry Hughes – donated a 46-acre tract to Boone United Methodist Church.
The donation included a permanent conservation easement, which was completed in 2004 by Blue Ridge Conservancy and allows for light recreational use while also protecting the views of Howard’s Knob from Boone and surrounding areas. But even with the easement secured, no plan for a trail was immediately in sight.
About six years ago, Eric Heistand and his family moved to the High Country and began looking for a compatible church. He met with Rev. Jason Byassee, who is now senior minister at Boone United Methodist Church. They began talking about the connections between the local outdoor community and the church. Heistand suggested a trail building project. Byassee then told Heistand that the church owned 40-some acres halfway up Howard’s Knob.
While Heistand set the Boone United Trail in motion, he mentioned that he stumbled upon a smaller Boy Scouts trail project that had begun several years earlier. Along with a diverse group of volunteers, trail bosses Heistand and Scott StClair expanded the trail and “continued in a much more formal” manner that in the end, Heistand said, is environmentally sustainable, aesthetically pleasing and graded in such a way that an entire family can enjoy.
“Tuesday Trail Nights” became a weekly tradition with more than 150 volunteers building the trail during the past two years. Heistand said a sampling of the volunteers included clubs from ASU, Sunday school groups, Mountain Alliance, Blue Ridge Conservancy and more.
Heistand joked that it took a year to build each mile. While professional trail builders consulted on the project, volunteers mainly with little or no trail building experience built the entire trail by hand.
“It’s been a much slower process and a lot more people have been involved, but I would say it’s been a richer experience because of all of the different groups taking part,” Heistand said. “So far, the trail has lived up to its name. It’s been a real neat united force.”
The trail is open to the foot-traffic public during the day only – no biking or overnight camping is allowed.
“The way the project has always been seen, it’s not a church trail. It’s really a community trail that happens to be owned by a church and managed by the Blue Ridge Conservancy,” Eric Heistand said.
Below is more information about the grand opening that takes place on National Trails Day on Saturday, June 7, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Meet at Boone United Methodist Church at 471 New Market Blvd on the field next to preschool play area.
- 11 a.m. opening
- 11:15 a.m. guided hike (hosted by High Country Recreation)
- 12 p.m. ribbon cutting ceremony and lunch
- 1:30 p.m. guided hike (hosted by Blue Ridge Conservancy)