A Brief History of the Middle Fork Greenway

A MISSION ON THE MOVE

A timeline of what’s happened and where we are now

  • An Idea Late 1990's
    Residents along the Middle Fork of the New River start meeting to discuss ways to improve our communities between Blowing Rock and Boone. We decided to revive human transportation.
  • 501(c)(3) 2000
    Middle Fork Greenway Association is incorporated and in 2001 becomes a 501(c)(3) non-profit.
  • Is it feasible? 2001
    In Spring 2001, MFGA commissions Sarah Riley's ASU Geography and Plannng Project Management class to determine the feasibility of a trail along the river between Blowing Rock and Boone. The project was determined feasible, and the report served as the primary planning document until 2013.
  • Pocket Parks Mid 2000's
    MFGA contacts all landowners along the proposed route, holds greenway seminars and gains support from some landowners. We successfully obtained Clean Water Management Trust Fund grants to secure land for 3 parks along the river; Payne Branch Park, Goldmine Branch Park, and Sterling Creek Park (donated by the Whitener Family).
  • Regional Plan 2010
    The Watuaga County TDA publishes the Boone Area Outdoor Recreation Plan and identifies the Middle Fork Greenway as a priority initiative. The TDA spearheads an effort to place the Highway 321 underpass at Mystery Hill on the NC DOT Transportation Improvement Plan.
  • Partnership 2011
    High Country Pathways, Inc and the Middle Fork Greenway Association merge. The broader mission of Pathways allows the community to secure other trails and river access grant funds beyond the Middle Fork Greenway.
  • Tweetsie Railroad 2012
    Tweetise Railroad constructs the first segment of the Middle Fork Greenway along its property. A ribbon cutting celebration is held in 2013.
  • Refined Vision 2013
    A new master plan is developed for the Middle Fork Greenway Master Plan by local planning firm, Destination by Design. The plan identifies six planning sections, ending with a connection to the Boone Greenway.
  • Leadership Capacity 2014
    A multi-year grant is awarded to Blue Ridge Conservancy (BRC) to fund MFG staffing and oversight. BRC and High Country Pathways join forces for project leadership, and an experienced Executive Director is hired.
  • Big Money 2014
    Funds are raise through NCDOT, Appalachian District Health Department and individuals and businesses to fund contstruction of the extension of the trail through Mystery Hill and under highway 321 thorugh a box culvert to Sterling Creek Park.
  • First Underpass Complete 2014
    Construction is completed for the new section of trail, resulting in approximately one mile of continuous greenway. A ribbon cutting celebration occurs in October.
  • Getting Ready 2014
    Preliminary engineering is completed for the Blowing Rock section of the greenway (Section One), made possible by an Appalachian District Health Department and private donors.
  • We're a big deal 2014
    The town of Blowing Rock identifies the Middle Fork Greenway as one of its top ten priorities in its newly adopted Comprehensive Plan.
  • All Aboard 2015
    The Watuaga County Tourism Development Authority (TDA), Blowing Rock TDA, and the Town of Boone all provide leadership and funding support for the MFG.
  • Let's build a mile 2015
    Through partnerships with NCDOT, Appalachian Regional Healthcare Systems and the National Park Service, progress is made in preparation for construction of Section One.
  • A Kind Gift 2015
    In an unprecedented busines collaboration, over fifty-five businesses and several individuals come together under the leadership of Appalachian Ski Mtn to raise over $50,000 during a Easter holiday weekend benefit.
  • Our momentum is evident 2015
    MFG receives an award for Exceptional Organizational Development at the Boone Recreation Summit.

In the late 1970’s, U.S. 221-321, the two-lane highway between Blowing Rock and Boone, was widened to four lanes.  Many people said it was about time: tourism was booming; the county’s population increased from 17,529 in 1960 to 23,404 in 1970 (and by 1980 it was 31,666); and during the 1970s ASU enrollments doubled to about 9,500.  The road was widened and more and more people were able to go faster and faster between the two towns.   Many people considered this to be a good thing; efficient transportation is always good.  But if you lived between Blowing Rock and Boone, and were accustomed to walking across the road to visit your neighbor every morning, or to fish in the Middle Fork, or to having your neighbor drop in to sit a spell on your porch, you might feel, as many roadside residents did after the road was widened, that your life had suffered a wide, deep disruption.  Eventually we learned to adjust to driving everywhere, but the sense of loss never went away.

In the late 1990's residents between Blowing Rock and Boone started meeting to talk about ways to  improve our communities.  Basically that just meant improving our lives.  Invariably our conversations turned to the way things used to be. The older residents remembered a time when your neighbor was anybody who lived up or down the river and anything you needed was a walk away.  Several people talked about the teacher who walked from Boone everyday to the two-room Middle Fork School, and the peripatetic music instructor—the Johnny Appleseed of Shape Note Singing—who carried his bag of shapenotes to the citizens of every hill and hollow. Listening, we were transported to a magical time when hellbenders inhabited the streambanks, and pigs roamed free, living on the chestnuts that covered the ground, and people walked from one community to another to help saw lumber, plant and harvest crops, build barns, deliver babies, play the banjo, make quilts, swim, sing, pray, care for the sick, and play various games, from checkers to baseball. Everybody was poor but nobody knew it. “Used to be a man could walk anywhere. Not anymore,” said one man, and several of us pointed to the fast pace of “the four lane” as the major factor curtailing our ability to walk even the relatively short distance from one neighborhood to the next.

Buoyed by these get-togethers and encouraged by the widespread demand for greenway trails, footpaths, sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes and bike paths that led to the adoption of alternative transportation plans by Blowing Rock in 1994 and Boone in 1995, we embarked on a journey to create an alternative route, “a slow lane” between the two towns, along the Middle Fork.  In 2000, with the goals of protecting our waterway, celebrating its beauty and history, and creating a walking and bicycling trail that will reinvigorate old community bonds and forge new ones, the all-volunteer Middle Fork Greenway Association was born.

In 2013 the Middle Fork Greenway Association became part of High Country Pathways, a non-profit organization with the goal of connecting the High Country with a network of trails and paddle access points.  High Country Pathways and Blue Ridge Conservancy, our local land trust, have joined forces to lead the Middle Fork Greenway initiative.