County nets grant for mountain biking park
A local mountain biking park is closer to breaking ground after receiving significant state support.
Watauga County, in partnership with the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority (WCTDA), has just received a $500,000 grant from the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) to assist with the acquisition and development for Rocky Knob Park.
TDA director Wright Tilley welcomed the additional support for the park.
"This is the third grant we've received for this project, which confirms that Rocky Knob Park is a great project that resonates with officials in the parks and open space business," Tilley said.
The 185-acre park is located just east of Boone, with access from Scenic Byway U.S. 421. When complete, the park will contain 10 to 12 miles of trail for biking, hiking and cross country skiing, three shelters and multiple picnicking areas. In partnership with the WCTDA, Watauga County purchased 45 acres of the tract last December.
The grant commits the WCTDA to completing the access road, parking area and phase 1 of trail development by the end of summer. That first trail, expected to be open and in use by this fall, will be developed using two $5,000 grants already secured from the Bikes Belong Foundation and Specialized, a bicycle manufacturer. These grants came through the WCTDA's partnership with Boone Area Cyclists, a local nonprofit organization working to promote and develop cycling opportunities throughout the Boone area.
Tilley said as soon as the project received permit approval, the trails would go under development. An access road from U.S. 421, a parking area and the beginning of the trail are requirements of the grant and the first construction stages of the park.
Eric Woolridge, the WCTDA's senior outdoor recreation planner, who'll manage development of the park, said, "The design of this facility supports family-based outings, provides a safe place for all ages to ride bikes on natural surface trails, and will ultimately challenge skilled mountain biking enthusiasts."
Woolridge said anyone interested in volunteering during development of the trails should join and support Boone Area Cyclists. "They are definitely the avenue for contributing to this and other local biking efforts," he said.
Woolridge maintains a blog about outdoor recreation development projects throughout the Boone area at http://www.booneareaoutdoors.com.
Rocky Knob Park is part of a shift in the county's promotional tourism strategy, coming at a time when various agencies are embracing a regional approach to marketing, capitalizing on the natural and scenic resources of the area instead of narrowly marketing specific sites or attractions.
In March 2009, the WCTDA board of directors instituted a program to aggressively support outdoor recreation in the Boone area. Since then, the WCTDA has helped secure four grants totaling $585,000. A broader, interconnected trails system is also in the works.
The WCTDA is also sponsoring upcoming volunteer work days to clear the Tanawha Trail, including Saturday, May 22. Contact Eric Woolridge to sign up as a volunteer at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or (828) 266-1345.