A $75,000 grant from the North Carolina Recreation Trails Program will fund rehabilitation and improvement of one the most popular trails in Julian Price Memorial Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The two-mile, badly eroded portion of the Boone Fork Trail is a key part of North Carolina's Mountains-to-Sea Trail that's quickly being built from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the Outer Banks.
The grant that will benefit a National Park Service trail was awarded to the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority, a Boone-area promotional organization with an innovative approach. The group staged a local Outdoor Recreation Summit in 2009 and instead of just using occupancy tax revenue to promote the High Country of North Carolina, the group is actually devoting a portion of its revenue to improving and expanding recreation opportunities, in this case, on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
In addition to the $75,000 grant, the WTDA pledged another $18,750 as 25 percent matching funds for a total of $93,750. The money will rebuild part of the Boone Fork Trail, as well as construct a dedicated Mountains-to-Sea trailhead parking area, information kiosk, and 700 feet of new trail adjacent to another Parkway part of the MST, the Tanawha Trail. That work will take place on Holloway Mountain Road between Foscoe and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“We’re very grateful for this grant," Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Phil Francis said. “The Boone Fork Trail is one of my favorites, and a favorite of many. It needs a lot of work and some repairs to make the trail safer and more enjoyable—and this grant will make a big difference.”
The Parkway superintendent went on record earlier this year supporting the grant request. In a February 2011 letter he pledged that the Parkway would complete environmental and archaeology studies to facilitate the project so that "the WTDA can hire a professional trail builder to stabilize and, if necessary, realign the existing trail."
“In these times of limited grant funding, we’re honored to receive this grant to improve hiking on the Blue Ridge Parkway, consistently mentioned as one of the primary draws for visitors to our area,” said WTDA Executive Director Wright Tilley.
“To be able to leverage $18,750 in occupancy tax funds contributed by visitors to gain an additional $75,000 for recreational tourism infrastructure is a significant achievement for our team," said Mr. Tilley.
Eric Woolridge,the WTDA's Director of Tourism Planning, said, “We’re working to develop a long-term relationship with the Park Service to improve the Parkway’s trail and recreation facilities for the future.”
“It’s easy to forget that existing trails, especially trails as popular as Boone Fork, occasionally need to be rebuilt,” said Randy Johnson, Mountains-to-Sea Trail task force leader for the Grandfather Mountain to Blowing Rock section of trail. “The grant makes that possible and will also give local volunteers new opportunities to support trails.”
Anyone interested in helping with the project or this portion of the MST can e-mail Randy Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During this last RTP grant cycle in North Carolina, there were 43 requests from across the state totaling $3,116,000. Only 21 applicants were selected, awarding total grants of $1,383,796. The RTP grant program is managed by the State, but is a federal assistance program of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.