The Birth of North Carolina’s Newest State Trail
Destination by Design partners with NC State Parks to maximize Burke County’s recreation potential with the Lake James section of the Fonta Flora State Trail. In a part of the state rich with natural assets, the Lake James region in western Burke County, NC stands out. This picturesque part of Western North Carolina boasts an abundance of natural resources that have made the area a top outdoor recreational destination for adventurers both near and far.
Park master plan
Rutherford County TDA
Broadening the Appeal of Existing Outdoor Assets
Since its creation in the early 1920s, Lake James has entertained many a hiker, fisherman, kayaker, and just about every other kind of outdoor enthusiast. The more recent expansion of the adjacent Lake James State Park has broadened the recreational appeal of the area. Families can now be found camping, picnicking, swimming, and mountain biking along this publicly accessible area.
As with any such recreational amenity, connectivity and access are key. The 6,812-acre lake has multiple access points, and dozens of miles of trails cut their way through the Lake James State Park. However, underutilized and unconnected areas around Lake James have long been a hindrance to fully optimizing this one-of-a-kind regional asset.
The need for a comprehensive planning approach was clear for some time. Working alongside local, regional, and state partners, DbD sought out to achieve just that – a master plan for the Fonta Flora State Trail – Lake James section.
Connectivity & Accessibility
First, our team identified a gap in the area’s existing trail infrastructure and overall accessibility. Despite the existing trail assets in the region, our team identified the need for a high-quality, highly accessible trail that would increase connectivity and provide additional opportunities for recreation.
It was clear that without a master plan, much of the land around Lake James would remain underutilized and disconnected.
It was also imperative to develop a brand for the trail. Our team is passionate about adding long-term value to the communities we work in, beyond the tangible master plans that we often produce. Branding compliments our planning work by bringing otherwise static plans to life and helping to establish an authentic sense of place.
The key to any master plan is the need to build consensus and develop buy-in across multiple stakeholder groups.
All along the planning process for the Fonta Flora Trail, the DbD team kept the community engaged. We reached out to landowners during the early stages when analyzing where the trail could physically go and we worked with the NCDOT to establish encroachment agreements. We also worked with local stakeholders to determine the facility design, look, feel, and architecture of the trail so that it seamlessly fit in with the area’s existing landscape and hardscape.
North Carolina’s Newest State Trail
The DbD master plan for the Fonta Flora Trail ultimately calls for a continuous 30-mile greenway that will encircle Lake James. Legislation calling for its creation was signed into law by the governor in 2015, and construction of the trail is well underway.
The success that the trail has realized to-date is due in large part to the determination and commitment shown by local leaders in Burke County. Other entities like Duke Energy and the North Carolina State Parks have provided the financial and technical support to bring this project to life.
Most importantly, a collection of passionate local residents, volunteers, and other community members seized ownership of this project and have been instrumental in its implementation. Their eagerness to collaborate in the planning process has only cemented the fact that the Fonta Flora Trail – North Carolina’s newest state trail – will benefit the community for generations to come.
The DbD-led Fonta Flora State Trail – Lake James Section Master Plan puts the vision of the Burke County community into an actionable framework. It is their determination that will ultimately make the vision a reality, and further elevate an area of Western North Carolina that is full of potential.