Commissioners host hearing on Middle Fork Greenway grant

A crowd of community members gathered Feb. 20 for a public hearing on the re-submission of a grant application to the state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund for the Middle Fork Greenway.

The county was notified in November that the previous grant application submitted to PARTF — which would go towards section four of the greenway — was not awarded. The commissioners authorized the county to reapply for the grant but allowed citizens to comment on the matter.

One mile of the greenway in a different section is already completed. Section four of the greenway would run from Blowing Rock to near the Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge, according to a map provided by the Blue Ridge Conservancy.

According to information provided by Blue Ridge Conservancy, $3 million has been raised to purchase land, build trails and fund the 1.3 miles to be constructed. However, an additional $9 to $10 million still needs to be raised to complete the trail.

Each of the nine community members who addressed the commissioners spoke in support of the Middle Fork Greenway.

Marilyn Laxton said in her profession as a licensed counselor she has witnessed the benefits of areas like the greenway on mental health. She said children today are growing up in homes with more electronics and aren’t receiving enough Vitamin D from time outside.

“With few easily accessible outdoor activities, we can’t expect them to be psychologically healthy and happy,” Laxton said. “Children learn self-care from environments and we are failing in our culture to provide nice places for our children to grow up. It should be our priority.”

Community members Eva Rand and Zika Rea spoke to the safety of cyclists and runners in the area who would benefit from a safe space to run or bike.

Rand said she serves on the Middle Fork Greenway task force and retired to the Blue Ridge Mountains five years ago. She said a big draw to the area for her was the opportunities for road cycling. However, she said you couldn’t pay her to ride her bike on U.S. 321 between Boone and Blowing Rock.

“I’m very excited about the prospect of having a safe paved connection between these two communities so I can ride between them and not be worried about the dangerous high-speed traffic,” Rand said.

Rea said she owns ZAP Fitness which works with professional and recreational runners. She said there aren’t many safe roads to run on unless you want to take 40-minute drives to Watauga River Road or Railroad Grade Road. She said she’s had former athletes be hit on roads while running or cycling, and athletes need safer places to exercise.

Appalachian District Health Department Director Jennifer Greene said that according to prior community health needs assessment surveys the department has conducted, indoor and outdoor recreation is one of the top issues community members commented on that they wanted to see the community support.

Wendy Patoprsty, Project Director for the Middle Fork Greenway, said she receives questions every week asking when the project will be finished. She said hopefully this grant, if awarded, will help the trail head in that direction.

During the commissioners’ regular meeting, the board approved Planning and Inspections Director Joe Furman’s request to submit a pre-application to the North Carolina Recreational Trails Program for the full amount of $100,000 for section four of the Middle Fork Greenway.

While a pre-application was submitted two years ago for this grant, at the time only unpaved trails were being funded, according to the information provided by the commissioners. Blue Ridge Conservancy is planning to provide the $25,000 required match.

Nikki Robinson