As more and more trails are built across the state, studies show that a trail can be much more than just a health and recreation amenity. It can drive economic development. Beth Heile, president of the Burke River Trail Association, has found that to be true working on the Burke River Trail route through each small town in eastern Burke County. Heile has uncovered several potential projects for housing, retail, restaurants and outdoor recreation businesses.
Burke River Trail Association’s main focus is getting trail on the ground to provide economic development opportunities in eastern Burke County. With supporting economic drivers as a goal – we follow, get involved and promote all opportunities. We are making sure any town involved with the Salisbury to Asheville passenger rail service is staying up to date!!
BRTA President Beth Heile was selected to be a part of the Mountain Bizworks Investment Framers Cohort. Participants were chosen from the 25 counties in western NC to learn how to spot an opportunity, put together stakeholders, find funding and take the project to completion.
Staying in your own lane is not conducive for getting trail on the ground.
With over two hundred miles of trail on the ground in Burke County and many more miles planned, the nonprofits, agencies and local governments that are responsible for our public trails have learned that crossing lanes to collaborate helps to get trail on the ground faster.
As Beth Heile started talking to local governments and trail nonprofits about co-location and intersecting with the Burke River Trail, she knew others were having the same separate conversations regarding different trail alignments. To make sure everyone in the county was on the same page knowing what is coming down the pike, Heile organized a Burke County Trails Summit for the people planning, building, and overseeing trails.
Finding the route for a public trail takes a lot of planning and input. From where beautiful sections are located to where there are willing landowners. To find that perfect path, 7 public input meetings were held from February to April in Glen Alpine, Drexel, Rutherford College, Connelly Springs, Rhodhiss, Long View, Hildebran. A big thanks goes to each of the municipalities for organizing the meeting space and publicizing the events. Average attendance was 20 people.
How does public trail end up on a private landowner’s property?
Through a trail easement agreement that is recorded with the property deed.
The following information will help a landowner know a little more about the process and help with deciding to allow trail on their land.
What are you asking from landowners?
We are asking landowners to work with us to connect existing sections of trail. We are happy to work with you to find a route through your property that is suitable to you. We are willing to acquire the trail through acquisition of narrow portions of the property for the trail or through right-of-way easements. We can discuss the benefits of each of these options in detail with you. The choice is yours – allowing trail will not be forced.
A frequent question when discussing trails along individual homeowners’ properties is about crime on trails. Studies show that is not a problem.
- Self-Policing – Trails & Greenways attract local residents who use the facility frequently and randomly
- Decrease Crime – Studies show less crime on trails than in the communities as a whole.
- Litter and Lack of Leash – Most common problems with public trails are litter, unauthorized motorized vehicles & unleashed pets.
While the Valdese Greenway is the first 2 miles of Burke River Trail on the ground, Wildcat Way is the first section build specifically to extend and to be a part of the Burke River Trail.
First the school board had to agree. Talks about this went back to June 2020, when the foundation of trail was laid during talks with Town of Valdese, BCPS (facilities, school board and administration) and a property developer.
Talks were a little more formalized in January 2022 with the new BCPS Superintendent Mike Swan and Commissioner Scott Mulwee. At this meeting, the discussion was held about the April 4, Beth presented at the BoE work session. Later came for a vote.
Outdoor Classroom?? Wetlands Study?? Getting there…
In April 2022, we had a meeting with BCPS Board of Education Chair Wendi Craven, DHS Principal Jeanene Fletcher Burris, Director of Auxiliary Services Dr Bob Acord and BC Soil and Water. With plans in the works for a natural surface trail on the BCPS property, Ms. Craven wanted to look into the possibility of educational opportunities along the trail. The trail – Wildcat Way – will be open to the public in late Spring – and then we will start looking at those educational features!!
From October, 2022 to February, 2023, volunteers worked to build the 4 foot wide natural surface trail. Zakk Heile and Tim Johnson flagged the trail route. Since Town of Valdese will be holding the trail easement and the trail will be in Valdese, Friends of the Valdese Rec paid for the excavator rental to cut in the trail. FVR and community volunteers did the finishing work.
At this time 4 Corners Land Surveying is doing a formal survey of the trail for the easement agreement. The survey will show the exact path of the trail with 12.5 feet on each side. Once completed this survey will be filed with the trail easement agreement as part of the deed and the trail will be open for public use.
Partnerships make trails happen and Rocky Ford access in Morganton is the perfect location to showcase partnerships in action. Members the nonprofit, business and local government worlds came together to tell the story with a Hike & Learn.
The event organized by Beth Heile, past president of Friends of Fonta Flora State Trail, is part of an ongoing series Heile started in 2021 to highlight Fonta Flora State Trail sections that are on the ground, educate the community about how the section came to exist and have lunch at a local establishment emphasizing the economic impact trails bring. Thirteen local hikers gathered at the gravel parking area off Lenoir Road/NC 18 N to hear updates on the trail activity that includes two state trails, a regional trail, a local greenway and a mountain bike trail system. It all started 30 years ago with the City of Morganton Greenway.
Ashton Godwin, Legislative Liaison with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC), spent a day away from his Raleigh office touring water access sites located along a planned regional pedestrian trail in Burke County. Rep Hugh Blackwell had several meetings in Raleigh with Godwin to discuss to discuss potential trailhead sites for the Burke River Trail (BRT), but Blackwell thought it was advantageous for Godwin to visit Burke County with him to get a first-hand look.
One page says it all – Trail Coordinator Beth Heile created this graphic to explain the trail in one page. She also has a complete slide show and is available to present at meetings of civic groups, local governments and more!
At this time, 4 mile segments in Morganton, Valdese and Rhodhiss are almost pinned down (with 2 miles complete in Valdese).
Burke County Public School Board of Education (BCPS BOE) owns acreage along the corridor in Valdese north of Draughn High School (DHS). In a meeting at the school, stakeholders discussed the options for the trail to cross the property. One option is to combine the property with Valdese Lakeside Park and the other is to provide a trail easement. The trail easement allows hikers to access the property but takes away the school’s liability. A non-profit or local government would hold the easement.
Steps are continuing to plan the Burke River Trail from the end of the Fonta Flora State Trail (end of the Morganton Greenway) to the north side of Grace Ridge. An MOU is being prepared to allow City of Morganton engineers on the property to determine a feasible route. Then a trail easement can be drawn up with a more precise location of the trail on the property.
Trail enthusiast Bryant Lindsey took BRTA President Beth Heile on a tour of the Morganton Waste Water Plant Property and the Skeet Range.
It seems going south of the Skeet Range is the safest option!
After 3 zoom meetings and 10 site visits, the proposed Catawba River Trail Corridor was revealed at a drop in public input meeting at the outdoor Pavilion behind Connelly Springs Town Hall. Attendees reviewed the maps, discussed the routes and provide additional feedback.
Volunteers with Catawba River Wildlife Coalition and Friends of the Valdese Rec participated in the Catawba Riversweep on Saturday by cleaning the river from Rocky Ford Access to Huffman Bridge. The 10 volunteers collected 10 bags of trash along the 4.5 mile route. Yes, that is a hippity hop!
Part of the cleanup was checking the shoreline on the south side of the river for the future Burke River Trail.
Pictured left to right – Eric Heile, Adele Ritchie, Dannie Ritchie, Averi Ritchie, Beth Heile, Jason Toney, Tom Troy, Ted Carothers, Rachael Dial, Leslie Thacker
The planning team for the Catawba River Trail (former working title – Burke River Trail) met with a surprising partner on Wednesday. Vulcan Materials Company owns property on the river in Morganton which would provide about one-half mile of trail along the waterfront and is interested in sharing their natural resources with their neighbors.
The Burke River Trail town tour continues had stops in Rhodhiss and Hildebran this week. On Monday, Representative Blackwell, FVR President Beth Heile and representatives from Western Piedmont Council of Governments (WPCOG) got a tour of Town of Rhodhiss from new Town Manager Rick Justice. Justice took the group to the Rhodhiss Boat Access on Weaver Lane which would be an incredible stop on the trail with restrooms and parking. The town-owned Horseshoe Trail Park was also a must see. It includes a walking path across the old dam, kayak launch, and views of the current Rhodhiss Dam. Robin Nicholson, Duke Energy Government and Community Relations said Duke Energy has archived pictures of the construction of Rhodhiss Dam that could be used for educational signage along the trail near the dam.
After Rutherford College Mayor Gary McClure and Town Manager Kenneth Geathers met with planners from Western Piedmont Council of Governments (WPCOG) to learn more, they are on board with what the trail will bring to Rutherford College.
Morganton City Manager Sally Sandy was more than ready for the visit from the Burke River Trail planning team which included Representative Blackwell, Western Piedmont Council of Governments (WPCOG) GIS Analyst Todd Stroupe and Beth Heile. The City of Morganton had explored the idea of expanding the Catawba River Greenway to the east in the past and Sandy’s staff was full of ideas and route suggestions. The greenway continuation is in line with the Burke River Trail that Representative Blackwell is spearheading with the goal of improving the health of citizens and the health of local economies.