Burke Trail Partners Share Updates and Ideas

What is becoming a twice a year event, the organizations responsible for getting trail on the ground in Burke County met to share updates on planning and building trail. Representatives from local governments and nonprofits submitted three slides in advance and had four minutes to provide updates during the first half of the meeting followed by general strategy discussions.

Attendees included those responsible for 3 of the 4 State Trails in Burke County (Fonta Flora State Trail, Overmountain Victory State Trail, Wilderness Gateway State Trail), the 2 large multi hundred-acre parks (Oak Hill Park, Valdese Lakeside Park), a regional trail (Burke River Trail), municipal greenways (Morganton and Valdese) and a trails planner from NC State Parks. Discover Burke County Tourism staff were present to make sure that they had all the latest information to share with visitors stopping in their office.

Representative Hugh Blackwell (R-86) was present as the partners wanted him to hear their success stories made possible by recent NC General Assembly legislation passed from designating 2023 as Year of the Trail in NC to funding for NC State Trails and all other trails.

One big success story was the first two miles of the Wilderness Gateway State Trail being designated by the State along the Valdese Greenway. NC Trails Planner Smith Raynor presented the official notice from Secretary Reid Wilson, NC Department and Natural Resources to Town of Valdese Parks and Recreation Director, David Andersen. For trail to be designated as part of a state trail, the trail must be open to the public, use sustainable trail construction and have a plan for rescue and maintenance from the trail section sponsor. The Wilderness Gateway State Trail will stretch from Catawba County to Rutherford County with a loop through Valdese.

Another success was the commitment by Burke County Commissioners and County Manager to work to complete the trail around Lake James and to the McDowell County line. The Burke County section of trail near the neighborhoods 1780 and The Enclave is both Fonta Flora State Trail (FFST) and Overmountain Victory State Trail (OVST) which will allow shared funding. Working with the state trail partners, the county will put out a Request for Qualifications to select a design team who will develop final design and construction documents for the exact route and determine necessary repairs to existing trail. Opportunities for construction of 2.2 miles of new trail and maintenance of 1.75 miles existing trail will be starting in late 2024.

Connectivity was a theme set by the Burke River Trail Association as they work on a county wide trail from Glen Alpine to Hildebran that will not only connect communities but connect residents and visitors to the history, art, culture and attractions of each town along the route. State grant funding will be available this year for “connecting communities” to state trails and the organization will assist local governments in applying for those funds.

Some of other takeaways:

  • Burke County, Town of Valdese and Foothills Conservancy all hope to add mountain bike trails over the next year.
  • The attendees decided to focus on Glen Alpine to Morganton through Oak Hill Park with the co-located trails of Burke River Trail, Fonta Flora State Trail and Overmountain Victory State Trail.
  • Local governments and nonprofit organizations plan to take advantage of new state funding for trails being released this year along with existing park funding for available trailheads with extra amenities.

Finding more ways to work together to promote all trails in Burke County was a discussion topic as there is an effort to market NC as The Great Trails State. Discover Burke County, the county’s tourism authority, shared that locals may not see their work within the county, but they are out promoting trails to nearby markets. A feature of their new downtown Morganton office is a large will mounted county wide trail map to help visitors plan their hikes, bike rides, paddles and horse rides.

Working together to promote community trail work days is another way organizations will combine resources. Many volunteers who enjoy trail work are willing to help any organization, not just their home trail. Foothills Conservancy is taking on organizing and promoting quarterly workdays which started with a January event held at Wolf Pit Trail with thirty-eight volunteers.

Finally, it was decided there needs to be time to enjoy the trails, explore new trails and socialize with others. To satisfy those needs, Burke County Community Hikes will be held on the fourth Sunday of the month at 3pm. The hikes will take place at different locations with different hosts. Here is the starting schedule:

  • January 28 at Valdese Lakeside Park, hosted by Friends of the Valdese Rec
  • February 25 at Oak Hill Park, hosted by Foothills Conservancy of NC
  • March 24 on Fonta Flora State Trail, hosted by Friends of Fonta Flora State Trail

Specific Details can be found at closer to time of each hike.

In addition to exposing residents and visitors to trails in Burke County, local trails advocate Beth Heile shared an early concept for a Western North Carolina Visitor Center at I-40 Exit 111 to be constructed as the current bridge over interstate is replaced. The location is an hour and a half drive from seven NC State Parks, six NC State Trails, and one NC State Natural Area and would be like a State Park Visitor Center but with restrooms and a dog park for those traveling. The stop, which would have the Wilderness Gateway State Trail running through the building breezeway would be a gateway to the western part of the state with exhibits from all those area parks and trails. A prominent feature of the center will be a glass turret allowing mountain views. Heile and Blackwell have been in talks with NCDOT and NC State Parks about the facility and are still firming up the specifics.

The trail partner meeting was hosted by Burke County in the County Commissioners Room and organized by Beth Heile, executive director of the Burke River Trail Association.