County breaks ground on Rocky Knob
Watauga County officials and local biking enthusiasts moved
dirt and geared up for a groundbreaking for a new park on Monday.
The 170-acre Rocky Knob Park, east of Boone, will host trails for mountain biking, hiking and cross-country skiing, part of the county's tourism promotion strategy. County crews are cutting a road into the park. Officials hope to hire a trail designer by July 1.
County commissioners, representatives of the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority (TDA) and members of Boone Area Cyclists gathered for the official groundbreaking ceremony and shared plans and goals for the project.
TDA chairman Rob Holton said the project would benefit both local bikers and businesses by creating a tourist draw that fit in with the TDA's marketing strategy.
"Outdoor recreation is a major element in the success of tourism development for Boone and the Boone area," Holton said.
"The Watauga County TDA is committed to establishing the Boone area as one of the top outdoor recreation destinations in America."
Holton also envisioned families visiting the area to use the trails that will be suitable for a variety of skill levels. He said support for the park has grown since a March 30 outdoor recreation summit in Boone that drew hundreds of people.
County commission chairman Jim Deal said the project was more than just public recreation.
"It's for the people that live here, but also the people that want to live here," Deal said.
He also touted the partnerships that brought the project together, including local volunteers.
"This is what you can do together when you work as a community," Deal said.
Trails might be open by fall, and volunteers with the Boone Area Cyclists plan to help with building the trails, which will be designed for all skill levels. The project has received $510,000 in grants and will also be funded by room tax revenues collected by the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority.
"Receiving a $500,000 grant in tough economic times speaks volumes about the need for this facility and about the impact it will have on tourism and economic development for the Boone area," Holton said.
Kevin Wilcox, a member of Boone Area Cyclists, said, "It's pretty exciting to have a place in Boone for cyclists to ride. I have several friends out of the area who'd come for something like this.
There are far too few initiatives like this in far too few towns."
Shaw Brown, owner of Boone Bike & Touring, said it would help local businesses like his.
"I send people out of town to ride every day," he said. "It's good for Boone Area Cyclists because they have somewhere to ride in town."
Andrew Stackhouse, who hosted the High Country Tour du Life in May, said the park could host competitive events and draw hundreds of people to the area. He estimated the 227 people in town for the May bike ride spent $77,000.
Levi Marland, 10, said he'd been mountain biking for four or five years and usually had to travel out of the area for mountain bike trails.
The park will eventually have picnic shelters and will also have some trails open for cross-country skiing in the winter.