BOONE — Roachel Laney was happy in retirement, but is enjoying his re-entry back into the world of sports as the inaugural Boone area sports commissioner, he told the Boone and Watauga County Tourism Development Authorities at a retreat meeting on April 16.

“The primary goal is to enhance the sporting events we already have,” Laney said. “My job is to get people together to talk.”

A former Appalachian State University athletics director, officiating coordinator and longtime volunteer, Laney said he has to resist the urge to manage events and let the coordinators do their work.

One of the first events the commission helped with was the Southern Conference Wrestling Championships, held March 10 at the Holmes Convocation Center.

“It was a huge success,” Laney told the retreat.

Going forward, the events will continue. Laney said that different soccer groups from local clubs, Watauga High School and Appalachian State University are meeting and having “very positive” discussions.

Laney noted that youth wrestling is “taking off,” with more of an emphasis on girls wrestling, including ASU hosting a women’s wrestling camp this summer for the first time.

Another big event coming to the Boone area this fall is the United States Adventure Racing Association’s Adventure Race National Championship, which will be held Sept. 26-28. Laney said the events will bring 250 competitors to the area.

“Teams are required to navigate a series of checkpoints using only a map and compass to guide them while transitioning between several disciplines such as: trail running/trekking, mountain biking, paddling and orienteering,” a description from the USARA’s website states.

Along with new events, Laney said he’s working to enhance current events like the Will Dicus baseball tournaments held in June, noting that tournament coordinator Bill Dicus is asking him to help in certain areas.

One of those connections is with ASU. Laney said that current ASU Athletics Director Doug Gillin is seeing the benefit of working with the commission and other community partners.

Going forward, Laney said that ASU is going to start bidding for more Sun Belt Conference championship events to come to Boone, in particular bringing up volleyball, as well as track and field and softball once the new facilities are built at the old Watauga High School site.

One concern brought up by TDA board members was having big sporting events on peak tourism weekends, such as Woolly Worm and peak leaf season in October. Laney said that to a point, those are unavoidable.

“As I learned in my tenure as an athletics director, we can’t avoid double-booking things,” Laney said.

Laney said he made a “short-term commitment” to the position, lending his expertise and connections to help the commission get going. The position was formed in January.

“I’ll hold the baton as long as needed,” Laney told the retreat.

Capital projects

Boone and Watauga TDA Executive Director Wright Tilley made a presentation to the board with several project updates.

In an update regarding Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park, Tilley said that the TDA had put in $50,000 for replacing the playground at the park. Tilley said there is now a grant opportunity to fund up to $35,000 of the playground through the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, which will help the TDA and Watauga County Parks and Recreation add more elements.

Tilley also lauded the formalized written agreement between Watauga County and the Boone Area Cyclists to recognize the latter’s weekly trail maintenance at Rocky Knob. Additional signage will be added to the park in the coming weeks to reflect the modified, added and expanded trails.

“It’s still generating a lot of interest,” Tilley said.

In 2019-20, Tilley said work on the timber-frame materials at Rocky Knob would need to happen, saying it’s been almost seven years since the wood has been updated.

Regarding the Howard Knob State Park Master Plan, Tilley said that the Boone-based design firm Destination by Design, which put together the plan, will be meeting with neighbors near the park to hear their concerns about the plans, particularly the potential for increased traffic.

Board members inquired about the potential to reconsider the times of the park’s closures, with Brad Moretz saying that May to October is too narrow a window and flexibility should be added for good-weather times.

Tilley said that the Middle Fork Greenway is planning its “Round Up for the Greenway” fundraiser again in 2019, noting it raised $112,000 in 2018.

Regarding the wayfinding signage program, Tilley said that he’s expecting the N.C. Department of Transportation to approve the project soon. The TDAs can then budget and decide where to start putting the signs before putting the project out to bid.

Tilley said that part of the holdups deal with conversations about private attractions being put on signs, which the NCDOT is reluctant to do.

A draft budget will be presented at the group’s May meetings and adoption should occur in June, before the new fiscal year starts on July 1.

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