HIGH COUNTRY — The new North Carolina state budget for the upcoming year has set aside unprecedented funds to support the outdoors and conservation throughout the High Country.

Leila Jackson, director of communications for Blue Ridge Conservancy, said this year’s state budget has put the most money toward conservation since the 2008 recession.

With $300 million earmarked for conservation and preservation, and another $200 million for resilience and flood resilience, the budget will impact the High Country in a multitude of ways.

Three projects by the BRC were given grants from the government: the Middle Fork Greenway, the Watauga Paddle Trail and the Northern Peaks Trail.

The state budget allotted $500,000 to the BRC for the Middle Fork Greenway, a project connecting the walking and biking trails in the Boone and Blowing Rock area. One of the trailheads for the Middle Fork Greenway is in Blowing Rock by the Tanger Outlets, and in the future it will connect down to the Boone Greenway.

“There are still several tracts of land to be purchased for the Middle Fork Greenway to go forward,” Jackson said. The government funding is particularly for purchasing land to conserve and add to the greenway.

Right now, BRC is getting ready to open the trailhead near Blue Deer Cookies on Highway 321 where the organization recently installed two bridges. In the future, Jackson said this will be the main trailhead park.

Government funding for the Watauga Paddle Trail amounted to $150,000, which Jackson said is going toward building out the parking area and some facilities for a river access point for paddling.

The Watauga Paddle Trail has existed since around 2011, Jackson said, and since a lot of the Watauga River runs along private property the paddle trail’s access points are places for water recreation participants to drop in and paddle the river. There’s six drop in points along the river paddle trail, with Valle Crucis Community Park being one of them.

The funding will be used to develop an access point just below the Valle Crucis Community Park on 8.5 acres of land that was donated to the BRC.

The Northern Peaks Trail has been in the works for a while, Jackson said, and it’s a collaboration between many conservation groups. A challenge with the trail is that the three peaks it highlights, Tater Hill, Elk Knob and Three Top, are home to a number of endangered plants and animals, but mostly plants, Jackson said.

The state budget set aside $50,000 for the trail, which Jackson said will go toward a study by the Natural Heritage Program to develop a plan for the trail that least impacts the ecosystem.

Beyond the High Country, the state budget is providing for two new state parks, the Roanoke River Paddle Trail and Bakers Lake State Natural Area. A total of $2.1 million recurring funds and $877,000 nonrecurring funds were allotted for the 2021-22 fiscal year, the parks will receive an increase to $3.5 million in recurring funds in 2022-23.

Marisa Mecke is a Report for America corps member for Mountain Times Publications. Report for America is a national nonprofit service program which places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under covered issues.

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