In a collaborative community effort, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and Blue Ridge Conservancy (BRC) will create public access to the future Middle Fork Greenway as part of the bridge replacement project on Aho Road between Blowing Rock and Boone.
The Middle Fork Greenway is a developing pedestrian and cyclist friendly trail that will connect the towns of Blowing Rock and Boone, naturally. The Middle Fork Greenway will ultimately create expanded recreational opportunities while promoting physical activity and improving the health of residents and visitors. It will also support the local economy by connecting users with the many nearby attractions and local businesses.
When complete, the 6.5 mile Greenway will connect the sidewalks of downtown Blowing Rock to the Boone Greenway. It will also link the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Tanger Shoppes on the Parkway, Tweetsie Railroad, Mystery Hill, three pocket parks and other natural areas, and the Appalachian Regional Healthcare Medical Center.
“These are complex projects, and it took careful planning to ensure the Greenway could safely travel under the Aho Bridge,” said Cullie Tarleton, NCDOT Division 11 Board Member.
“NCDOT has been instrumental in Middle Fork Greenway development,” said Charlie Brady, BRC Executive Director. “We are working closely with our Division Engineers on every section throughout the Greenway corridor.”
As the Aho Bridge is replaced to satisfy vehicular traffic, accommodations to incorporate the Middle Fork Greenway under the bridge and a sidewalk connection to safely cross the top of the bridge are a milestone for this section of trail. The Middle Fork Greenway will connect to FaithBridge United Methodist Church and its 10-acre wetland, protected by a conservation easement with BRC. FaithBridge UMC will grant public access to additional trails to the wetland as the Greenway develops in this section. “Our church grounds are abundant with beautiful natural resources that we are excited to share with the community,” says Ben Carson, Lead Pastor of FaithBridge UMC.
“Additional funding was needed to supplement the increased costs for the bridge,” said Joe Furman, Watauga County Planning and Inspections Director. “That is where some creative partnerships played a key role, through funding from the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority (TDA) and grants from the State of North Carolina.”
North Carolina State Senator Deanna Ballard secured funding from the State to support NCDOT constructing the bridge taller and wider than was originally planned in order to accommodate the Greenway. “We need places to safely access the outdoors to recreate for mental and physical health,” said Senator Ballard. “The last few months have certainly demonstrated the value and importance additional trails and parks can have in shaping healthy communities across our state. I am grateful for the opportunity to help secure a funding opportunity to ensure we can do just that.”
Part of Blue Ridge Conservancy’s mission is to advance opportunities for outdoor recreation. BRC plays a pivotal role in expanding public access to land for hiking, biking, paddling, hunting and fishing. The Middle Fork Greenway is an example of how BRC, community partners and landowners can work together to make the High Country an ideal place to live, work and play.
“The Tourism Development Authority (TDA) has been a supporter of the Middle Fork Greenway project since the very beginning,” said Wright Tilley, TDA Executive Director. “It is great to see another piece of the project coming together and we look forward to the day when Boone and Blowing Rock are fully connected by this greenway.”
There are many other BRC public access projects that promote healthy living and spending time in nature. For more information about BRC’s mission to protect land and natural resources in the High Country, visit www.blueridgeconservancy.org.