LAUREL CREEK — The Blue Ridge Conservancy announced Jan. 19 that it has purchased a 2.3-acre river access area on the Watauga River at Guy Ford Road in the Laurel Creek area.
The river crossing at the Guy Ford Bridge is a put-in site for paddlers and also a popular swimming hole and fishing access site.
Blue Ridge Conservancy said it was able to complete the purchase below appraised value thanks to strategic partnerships and community support. The property is located between two existing river access sites: one known as Watauga Gorge Park, owned by Watauga County, and the other at Tester Road, owned by American Whitewater, a nonprofit organization.
“The Guy Ford Road Access advances BRC’s mission of protecting and expanding public recreational access to land and water resources in Northwest North Carolina,” said Blue Ridge Conservancy Executive Director Walter Clark in a statement.
“We received a tremendous amount of support from partnering organizations, volunteers and donors who all have a personal connection and love for the Watauga River,” added Eric Hiegl, Blue Ridge Conservancy director of land protection and stewardship, in a statement. “These passionate supporters are dedicated to see the river remain accessible for everyone who enjoys canoeing, kayaking, fishing and swimming.”
The Guy Ford River Access is part of the 21-mile Watauga River Paddle Trail, which traverses through Valle Crucis, a National Rural Historic District, and continues into Tennessee. Local businesses, tourists and citizens currently use Guy Ford Road as a river access point. The property will be enrolled in the Public Fishing Access Program managed by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the conservancy said.
The river access site will serve as a put-in for the Watauga Gorge with class IV-V rapids, as well as a take-out for Section III, consisting of class II-III rapids beginning at the Upper Gorge Park. These sections of river draw paddlers from all over the Southeast.
Watauga County deeds records indicate the 2.38-acre tract — located on the southwest corner of the river crossing — was sold to the conservancy for $60,000 in late December and then transferred to Watauga County on Dec. 31.
The county TDA and the TVA each contributed $25,000 toward the purchase, according to BRC spokeswoman Nikki Bauman. A fundraising campaign started in November also yielded 140 contributors to the project.
Wright Tilley, executive director of the Watauga Tourism Development Authority, said the TDA was pleased to help with funding for the purchase of the Guy Ford Road property.
“This river access point is another fantastic addition to the existing paddle trail access points in the Boone area, including the Watauga Gorge access, the Pine Run access, the Green Valley access and others,” Tilley said in a statement.
Bucky Edmondson, TVA director of natural resources, said, “Protecting and enhancing public lands and waterways takes partnerships and public engagement — and Tennessee Valley Authority is proud to be a part of this partnership with the Blue Ridge Conservancy and Watauga County to increase access to a beautiful section of the Watauga River.”
The local community and dedicated organizations will manage the access point for the benefit of tourist-based river activities and community members. Future plans for this access point include parking, signage, information kiosks and support facilities as outlined in the Watauga County Recreation Plan.
“If we want to continue to enjoy these experiences, the preservation of beautiful, wild, untamed, natural areas like the Watauga River Basin must be a priority, not just in our thoughts, but in our actions,” said Edgar Peck, lead volunteer and physical education activity director at Appalachian State University.
More information about Blue Ridge Conservancy is available at www.blueridgeconservancy.org.