Establishing Boone and Blowing Rock’s Gateway Greenway
The Middle Fork Greenway is a project led by Blue Ridge Conservancy in partnership with Watauga County, the Town of Blowing Rock, and the Town of Boone.
The 7-mile Middle Fork Greenway, connecting Boone to Blowing Rock, has gone from far-flung fantasy to a regional planning success story that promises to transform the region.
Trail Facility Designs
Much of the tourism-dependent communities in Western North Carolina share a number of common features. The scenery, history, and outdoor recreational opportunities in this region draw in many first-time visitors, while these same attributes – and more – turn these first-time visits into frequent family traditions.
A few communities in the region stand out from the pack for their blend of attractive quality-of-life assets. Blowing Rock and Boone are two such places. Like their NC mountain town brethren, each offers bountiful opportunities for outdoor recreation, but they also boast an eclectic mix of culture, arts, and city amenities. Tourists and long-time residents alike seamlessly blend together in these thriving mountain communities.
The two towns – separated by a 15-minute drive along U.S. Route 321 – are distinct in their identity, yet their proximity to each other highlights the common threads they share. Popular attractions like Mystery Hill and the Tweetsie Railroad Theme Park lie halfway between Boone and Blowing Rock, along the 321 Corridor, as if to encourage day-trippers to work both towns into their weekend itineraries. The Middle Fork Greenway will make this all the more possible and enjoyable, while also making the area much more livable for full-time residents.
The Middle Fork Greenway is well on its way to becoming a premier quality-of-life asset that will connect more people to two of Western North Carolina’s most vibrant places.
A Unique Challenge
The design process surrounding an undertaking like the Middle Fork Greenway came with its challenges. For one, the planned trail wouldn’t connect sparsely populated areas with broad swaths of land ripe for development, but rather, two well-developed towns with entrenched hardscape assets. The proposed greenway would also mainly run between the Middle Fork River and Highway 321, presenting both engineering and environmental challenges.
Working with two principal jurisdictions also presented inherent challenges for a master planning process that would rely on cohesion across the communities. DbD knew that regional collaboration would be key to overcoming the challenges that the Middle Fork Greenway posed.
The process that guided the Middle of the Fork Greenway initiative didn’t materialize overnight.
In 2010, the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority identified the Middle Fork Greenway as a priority initiative. Passion and interest were never lacking over the many years that the greenway became a regional initiative. The initiative had a regional champion in High Country Pathways, Inc. who helped cobble together the volunteers, funding, and regional alliances necessary to bring a project of this magnitude to fruition.
Though the passion was always there, the greenway initiative at times lacked a clear vision. In 2013, DbD stepped in to help fill the void by leading a collaborative master planning process that sought to channel this community passion into strategic areas of prioritization. Since the previous DbD-led Master Plan first established a refined new vision for the greenway, leadership capacity has grown, community engagement has increased, key funding for the greenway has been secured, and key sections of the greenway are completed or underway.
The leadership provided by High Country Pathways and the Middle Fork Greenway Task Force since the greenway was first tabbed as a top regional priority were central to the successes that the initiative has yielded.
Success Breeds Success
People and organizations want to be a part of something special, especially if that something special is taking place right in their own backyard. In the case of the Middle Fork Greenway, much of the successes seen to date are a result of the regional alliances made by High Country Pathways, in addition to the broader community’s continued engagement in the planning process.
Ultimately, the master planning effort that DbD led for the Middle Fork Greenway was about developing consensus and building momentum. The early successes realized during the planning process gave way to a community-driven commitment to continue the momentum and see the project through.
In 2014, High Country Pathways and the Blue Ridge Conservancy joined together to serve as the lead regional organizations behind the push to get the greenway developed. This partnership greatly enhanced the leadership capacity of the greenway initiative, and helped attract significant project funding from a variety of sources.
The community’s interest in seeing this regional priority through is evident in the growth and engagement of the Middle Fork Greenway Task Force. The task force now holds monthly meetings to solicit community input and keep the public apprised of the status of the greenway’s development.