Making Tracks - Mountain-bike trails will cross new park
A new land purchase may help put Watauga County on the map for mountain-biking.
The county is pedaling forward with the acquisition of 47 acres for a future outdoor-recreation project, with planning underway for a range of biking, hiking and other public uses.
The county commissioners voted earlier this month to purchase the tract (pictured below left) with $909,000 worth of occupancy tax revenues collected by the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority.
TDA director Wright Tilley said the purchase should be finalized in a couple of months, but planning and construction could take a while.
The property is located near U.S. 421 east of Boone and connects to 130 acres of county-owned property near the former landfill and current sanitation operations.
"We are working on the plan right now," Tilley said. "One of the ultimate goals is to develop a top-notch mountain biking facility comparable to the ones at Kerr Scott in North Wilkesboro."
The W. Kerr Scott Reservoir park has nearly 20 miles of biking trails, and the popularity of that destination helped spur pursuit of a Watauga County site.
Drawing cycling tourists
Tilley said the move will not only capitalize on local bikers' enthusiasm but also create a tourism draw for the entire family.
"Local bike shops had to send visitors out of the county for mountain-biking trails," Tilley said.
"That became a priority for us, especially since this area has such a biking connection. We're trying to design the trails for avid mountain bikers and also trails for families that are coming to the mountains to visit, so they can have off-road safe trails they can ride with their families."
The plan could also include hiking trails, picnic areas and green space, though the project will likely be developed in phases, depending on available funding. Backpacking and hiking, wildlife viewing and cycling are the three top adventure interests of families, according to industry surveys of recreational activities. Tilley said the site offers all three.
"It's one more outdoor activity to market to potential visitors," Tilley said.
"It's part of the big picture of outdoor recreation, establishing us as one of the top outdoor recreation areas in the United States."
The Boone area has already been highlighted in "National Geographic Adventure Magazine" and "Outside Magazine" for outdoor-recreation offerings, including hiking, kayaking and rock climbing.
Tilley said biking visitors will also be contributing to the tourism base.
"As people are traveling closer to home, both paved and off-road bicycling is one of the top outdoor recreation activities," he said.
Trail planners will gather data from landscape architects and input from local cyclists, make comparisons to other biking parks, and likely hold public meetings to piece together the network of trails for the wooded terrain.
"It's a beautiful piece of property and our goal is to create this trail system and still preserve the beauty of the land," Tilley said.
"A lot will depend on volunteer labor and what forms of grants are out there, too."
"A new eco-friendly outdoor recreation park will complement our marketing goal of establishing Watauga County as one of the premier outdoor recreation areas in the country," said TDA chairman Rob Holton.
"Promoting hiking and biking is as important to Watauga County as golf and tennis promotion is to other destinations."
The Watauga County TDA commits one-third of collected occupancy taxes for tourism infrastructure.
The six-percent tax applies to all short-term lodging establishments in the unincorporated areas of the county.