WATAUGA — With another major section under construction, the Middle Fork Greenway is on its way to connecting Boone and Blowing Rock.
Wendy Patoprsty, the director of the Middle Fork Greenway which is a project of the Blue Ridge Conservancy, hosted a webinar that provided updates on the trail’s progress on July 13.
The Middle Fork Greenway trailhead in Blowing Rock, which opened in November just past Tanger Outlets on U.S. 321, was completed early because Patoprsty said the North Carolina Department of Transportation was working on a U.S. 321 project.
“We decided it would be very important to work with them and we’re so glad that we did because they were able to fund 80 percent of the construction of this trailhead,” Patoprsty said. “So it was just a really great time to go ahead and get it installed.”
But of course with a trailhead comes a trail connecting to it.
“So the section that we’re looking at right now to construct is actually about 1.2 miles from the trailhead all the way through the Blue Ridge Parkway,” Patoprsty said.
The greenway would go along the right side of the river and under the Blue Ridge Parkway. Patoprsty said the project is working with the Blue Ridge Parkway on permitting and access as there are many regulatory and environmental assessments that have to be taken into account when working on National Park Service property.
That 1.2 miles continues on through the Foley Center, which the project has an easement through. The 1.2 miles from the Blowing Rock trailhead out to U.S. 321 is fully funded, Patoprsty said.
“We’re also funded for the Greenway trail,” Patoprsty said. “An engineering firm has been hired, they’re working diligently to get the permits that we are required to go through National Park Service property. This was funded through federal grants, therefore there’s also some hoops to jump through to get that funding to unlock, but we’re really excited.”
As the Greenway Tail continues from Blowing Rock to Boone, the trail continues near Tweetsie Railroad with nearly a mile of the Greenway complete. The trail starts at the northern end of the Tweetsie Railroad parking lot and goes next to Mystery Hill, under the highway and all the way down to Sterling Creek Park. That section, near Tweetsie, was constructed in 2015.
“Can you just imagine riding your bike from Boone or Blowing Rock and being able to get to Tweetsie Railroad, without ever having to get into your car,” Patoprsty said. “So that’s what we’re working on.”
Currently, the project is working on connecting the Tweetsie Railroad connection so that two miles of the middle part of the Greenway will be completed. That section is being built starting on U.S. 321 near Niley Cook Road where Blue Deer Cookie has its trailer.
On the Niley Cook Road section of the trial, there will be a small eight-car parking lot. Across the river and over a bridge, however, there will be a 29-car parking area on U.S. 321. Patoprsty said the bridges that are being built to cross the floodplains of the river at different sections of the trail are about 70 feet long.
This year, the Middle Fork Greenway project is working on fundraising and the final permitting to connect the trail being built near Blue Deer to the Tweetsie Railroad trail. The new Quality Plus gas station on U.S. 321 is where the trail is planned to connect through a culvert. The culvert is designed to have three boxes that will go underneath U.S. 321 to allow water to flow under the road. One of the boxes would be used for the trail, and Patoprsty said it would be closed if it was ever flooded.
“Right now this section is still underway for the design, engineering, permitting and fundraising, but we’re on target to begin construction on this in April of 2022,” Patoprsty said. “We’ve got to continue making that a priority because we don’t want to have this mile done and this mile done without this critical link that is safety for folks to get over the highway there.”
The link between the middle part of the trail to Tweetsie Railroad and connecting Niley Cook Road to Watauga Medical Center and the rest of the Boone Greenway are all that remain. Patoprsty said the project has options.
“About two months ago, we received a call from the NCDOT saying that they wanted to fund two feasibility studies for the Middle Fork Greenway,” Patoprsty said. “So what we’re looking at is this whole area from Niley Cook Road, and how we get to the hospital right here in Boone. We’re looking at going on both sides of the highway.”
Patoprsty said there could possibly be a loop that would come down from the hospital and through a valley to then connect to the trail near Niley Cook Road. The NCDOT is also looking at continuing the trail along the east side of the highway in a more straight shot to the hospital.
Along Aho Road off of U.S. 321, Patoprsty said the Blue Ridge Conservancy also “basically inherited” 46 acres and a house. In the 46 acres, which will house the Blue Ridge Conservancy, there will be one to two miles of trails. The NCDOT is currently conducting a feasibility study on connecting those trails to the Greenway through a spur trail along Faith Bridge Church.
Looking ahead for critical funding needed to complete the Greenway, the project needs about $400,000 by the end of 2021 to get the Tweetsie Railroad connector part done for a Spring 2022 construction. The project also needs $1 million for land acquisition on the Boone side of the Greenway.
To donate to the Middle Fork Greenway project, more information can be found at www.middleforkgreenway.org.
“I saw online someone’s say ‘I really hope the Greenway is built in my lifetime.’ I hope after today’s presentation, you can kind of see all the momentum that is happening, and the work that’s being done through Blue Ridge Conservancy, our municipalities, our towns and all the community that just is rallying together to make this happen,” Patoprsty said. “I hope you can also see that, yes, it will be done in our lifetime. You will be able to run 12 to 13 miles connected from Boone to Blowing Rock.”