BOONE — A contract with Boone-based Destination by Design to plan for the redevelopment of Howard Knob County Park to include restrooms and a viewing deck, as well as to plan for wayfinding signage in Watauga County, was approved by the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority board on Tuesday morning.

A wayfinding project would create uniform signage for Watauga County to help visitors find area attractions and important community locations. Tilley and other board members have spent 2017 researching other municipalities’ wayfinding projects and their respective costs.

The two projects were bundled together into one contract, which will cost a combined $117,000, of which $65,000 is for the wayfinding plan and $52,000 for the Howard Knob master plan.

Watauga TDA Director Wright Tilley noted that the $52,000 was down from the original quote of $87,000 for Howard Knob, and the plan includes the Juna Natural Area in the Junaluska community. The wayfinding project price point remained the same.

“It’s a good, fair price,” Tilley told the board.

The timeline in the contract says the wayfinding signage final plan development will take place between August and November 2018 and the Howard Knob master plan will be ready in August 2018. Destination by Design’s Eric Woolridge and Tilley at past meetings have estimated each project to cost at least $1 million each.

Board Chair Matt Vincent noted that the contract does not include surveying fees, which would cost about $10,000. The TDA included in their motion that they would fund the surveying separately.

The approval of the two projects comes after the board authorized Tilley and Vincent to enter into negotiations with Destination by Design at the Oct. 8 meeting.

The Howard Knob and Juna Natural Area projects are in line with the Northern Peaks Trail master plan, Tilley explained.

The Northern Peaks Trail is a proposed long-distance hiking trail that would connect downtown Boone to downtown West Jefferson along several mountains, extending approximately 40 miles from Boone in Watauga County to Mount Jefferson in Ashe County. Juna Natural Area and Howard Knob are included in the plan as focus areas.

The Northern Peaks Trail master plan was unanimously adopted at the meeting as well, with Tilley showing some of the highlights to the board members.

Tilley said he will try to get the town of Boone and Watauga County to formally adopt the plan as well, noting it would help with future grant proposals to show it has governmental support.

“This shows a planning agency that we’re working together to a common goal, rather than dreaming,” explained board member Tony Gray.

When asked about the long-term plans for the Northern Peaks Trail, Tilley said that Ashe County is working on their end as well, but it would likely have to be done in sections like the Middle Fork Greenway.

“Connectivity will be the hardest part of this,” Tilley told the board about the Northern Peaks Trail.

Guy Ford river access project to start in spring 2018

The Watauga TDA approved the release of $75,000 that was set aside pending total funding for phase one of the Guy Ford Road parking area development.

The proposed project, which currently includes a parking lot with 27 gravel spaces, a retaining wall, permits and fees, is estimated to be around $275,000 for the first phase, with a vast majority of the funding going to the retaining wall.

Eric Hiegl of Blue Ridge Conservancy was on hand to update the board with a conceptual drawing of phase one along with a breakdown of costs. The original approval of the $75,000 came in February contingent on the other $200,000 being raised by Blue Ridge Conservancy. Hiegl, along with Watauga County Planning and Inspections Director Joe Furman, said the delay in getting the funding happened when the grant request for $100,000 from the state’s Recreation Trails Program was denied. However, Watauga County stepped up to commit that $100,000.

“The county has committed to using its personnel and equipment, which helps with a huge chunk of costs,” Hiegl told the board.

Along with the TDA’s $75,000, the plan got $50,000 from the 2017-18 North Carolina state budget and $50,000 approved by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Hiegl credited state Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Blowing Rock) with helping to direct the $50,000 to the project, which was originally slated for a New River project.

Hiegl, Furman and Edgar Peck with the Appalachian State Recreation Department told the board that the plan is to start the permitting process and begin work in spring 2018 and conclude phase one in the fall. Phase two, which is estimated to cost $100,000 and include paved parking and picnic areas, is set to begin work in spring 2019, according to Hiegl. Proposed funding would be $50,000 each from the TDA and the TVA.

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