BLOWING ROCK – The town’s sustainable management plans, ambulance services and the best use for Davant Field were just some of the issues discussed during the second day of the Blowing Rock town council’s 2021 Winter Retreat. The meeting, which took place on Jan. 26 began at 8:30 a.m. and was streamed live for the public on both Zoom and YouTube.

The meeting got underway with Tracy Brown, Blowing Rock’s TDA executive director, discussing the joint organization’s sustainable tourism management plan. Brown touched on the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on tourism-based communities across the state and what the increase in visitors wishing to socially distance themselves outdoors meant for mountain villages such as Blowing Rock.

“There are kids out on the front line who are putting themselves at risk. Then we get the volume that we get, we have restaurants that can’t accommodate them, you have hotels that are overrun, overworked, so it’s been tough,” said Brown, referring to the large increase in traffic seen in the small community last fall. If all goes according to plan, the sustainable management plan would allow High Country visitors to enjoy the region, without overwhelming the town. This means implementing practices such as not holding multiple festivals in one weekend and limiting the shutting down mainstreet for outside organization events. Huge spikes in tourist traffic not only means impacts on local roads, but also on the area’s natural resources. A solid sustainable management plan may help mitigate these types of environmental impacts.

“One of the issues that we’re seeing, is that we have a lot of people using our facilities. I don’t mean just Blowing Rock, I mean the parkway, the trails, etc. that aren’t really accustomed to this kind of outdoor adventure, and they don’t know how to treat it” said Brown. “So they’re crossing over fences that they shouldn’t, they’re taking trails that they shouldn’t be, they’re littering. That’s something I think may come out of this, is how we would play a role, not just as a TDA but as a community in supporting sustainable practices and how to treat the environment around us.”

Following discussions about the town’s sustainable management plan, Blowing Rock officials revived conversations about the town’s ambulance service. During the discussion, the town council was joined by Blowing Rock’s fire chief, Kent Graham, who began the talks by sharing what the local emergency services had done to improve their level of care and responses. Some of the improvements included the construction of new fire stations, fire and rescue mergers, improvements to their insurance rating and the addition of trench and swift water rescue certifications.

Regarding the ambulance situation, Graham provided in depth analysis of the issues regarding response times and medical coverage throughout Watauga County. This also included discussion about partnerships and mutual aid agreements with blowing Rock and neighboring stations. This discourse is part of an ongoing conversation about the gaps in ambulance service in Blowing Rock and whether or not the town should have it’s own full-time ambulance station in town.

“It’s not a matter of distribution, it’s a matter of not having enough ambulances on duty,” said Graham. “There are some layers to that onion, regarding how many ambulances are on duty and what percentages of the time is one or more of those ambulances taking an interfacility transfer from Watauga to Baptist, or CMC, or Johnson City.”

One of the concerns regarding the purchase of an ambulance for Blowing Rock while remaining within the current EMS system is how often it would be used for backup calls elsewhere in the county. At times, the high volume of calls seen in Watauga County pulls ambulances from Blowing Rock to other districts.

“I would hate for us to fund an ambulance and it be used everywhere but Blowing Rock,” said town council member, Virginia Powell.

According to Graham, there are several complicating factors, including legality and lack of support, that may hinder the establishment of a full-time ambulance service strictly for Blowing Rock. However, council members were insistent that a change must occur at some point in order to provide the citizens in the Blowing Rock district the medical services they need.

“We’ve kicked this can down the road for way too long, we’ve played nice,” said councilman David Harwood. “Until we get the county to take us seriously, it’s not going to change.”

The discussion ended on the premise that there would be further conversations regarding how to solve the ambulance issue.

“I think we’re going to have more discussion about this tomorrow and ongoing, but I think until we band together with Deep Gap, and Meat Camp, and Foscoe, and Triplett and Zionsville and potentially take legal action, we’re not going to be taken seriously,” said Hardwood.

Other topics on the agenda on Tuesday were upcoming Parks and Recreation projects such as adding new playground activities such as a climbing rock element, adding more bathroom facilities and landscaping along Hwy. 321. During this segment, Blowing Rock’s Davant Field and how to make the best use of was one point of conversation.

“It seems like this area, being the largest green space that we have outside of the park, does come up pretty often with people wondering could you do something different with it,” said Blowing Rock’s town manager, Shane Fox.

Currently the park is being used for activities such as kinder T-ball, baseball, kinder soccer, pavilion rentals, and summer camp. The field is also used by various road races such as the High Country Half-Marathon, as well locals who utilize the field for recreation. Though the space was intended for use as a ball field, there is some talk on whether or not the wide, open space is being used to its full potential.

“As new things come about and we have new groups wanting to do things, or people want to have festivals and things in town that we keep this space in mind,” said Fox. “For certain things it may fit better there than it would elsewhere, certain things won’t, but I think our goal is that we want to utilize this space more than we’re currently utilizing it.”

Other items on the day’s agenda included Planning and Zoning, where the councilmen discussed issues such as storm water drainage and short term rentals.

Following a full day of discussion, day two of the Blowing Rock Town Council’s Winter Retreat adjourned in the late afternoon and plans to reconvene on the morning of Jan. 27.

The full meeting can be viewed via the town’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NKmSonl-9A.

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