RALEIGH — The under-development Northern Peaks Trail will have more funding opportunities as it is now an official state trail according to legislation signed into law July 1.
The roughly 40-mile proposed long-distance hiking trail would connect downtown Boone to downtown West Jefferson. The plan, according to a master plan commissioned by the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority and put together by Boone-based firm Destination by Design, would link Howard Knob and Elk Knob in Watauga County to Three Top Mountain and Mount Jefferson in Ashe County. The law defines the Northern Peaks State Trail’s southern end at Rivers Park in downtown Boone, located along Rivers Street between Moretz Drive and Water Street.
The law, S.L. 2019-74, was signed by Gov. Roy Cooper after unanimously passing the N.C. Senate and House, respectively. The bill was originally introduced by Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Blowing Rock).
“The (N.C.) General Assembly authorizes the (N.C.) Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to add the Northern Peaks State Trail to the state parks system as a state trail,” S.L. 2019-74 states. “The department shall support, promote, encourage and facilitate the establishment of trail segments on state park lands and on lands of other federal, state, local and private landowners.”
The law says that the state may receive donations of land and may purchase other needed tracts with existing funds in the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, the U.S. Land and Water Conservation Fund and other available sources of funding.
According to the N.C. State Parks’ website, there are over 310 state-maintained trails in over 40 state parks, plus six multi-county long-distance trails such as the 1,175-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which runs along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Watauga County. Many parts of the state’s long distance trails are still under development.
“On segments of the Northern Peaks State Trail that cross property controlled by agencies or owners other than the department’s Division of Parks and Recreation, the laws, rules and policies of those agencies or owners shall govern the use of the property,’ S.L. 2019-74 states.
The Northern Peaks State Trail has been a continuous focus of the Watauga TDA. The master plan was completed in fall 2017 and the TDA has been focusing on revitalizing Howard Knob Park in the next two years. Blue Ridge Conservancy Director Charles Brady told a roundtable in April that the trail is still in early planning stages.
A completed Northern Peaks Trail would bring in an estimated annual impact of $2.5 million from an estimated 146,060 to 219,090 visitors, according to Destination by Design’s master plan.
The master plan can be found at issuu.com/dbdplanning/docs/npt_final_plan.