Getting a 100 mile trail completed in 10 years takes some planning. State and local government agencies and volunteers from Burke and McDowell Counties gathered at Lake James State Park to set a strategic plan.
The group created an FFST Trail Timeline Spreadsheet for all to use. From that combined information, each jurisdiction will be able to see how the trail is progressing to make sure we meet our goal. Also, once all information is gathered, a promotional map will be created for the public to understand where trail is located at this time and where trail will be built.
The Town of Old Fort Aldermen are very supportive of trails through town. At their March Meeting, they voted to allow the town to apply for a PARTF grant to help fund a FFST Trailhead and Park, to fund a park plan from Destination by Design Planning , host a public input meeting for feedback on the PARTF grant and park plan on March 22, and fund some more The G5 Trail Collective trails. This group understands what trails can do for the health of their citizens and their wallets and taking steps to become a Trail Town.
Blair Melton, McDowell County Planning, presented information regarding the PARTF grant and public input meeting. She also introduced Beth Heile, F3ST Executive Director, who thanked the board for supporting F3ST. Tim Johnson, Destination by Design, was on hand to answer questions about the park plan.
In 2015, Scott Carpenter, Burke County Deputy County Manager and Community Development Director found an old notebook in his office about a loop trail around Lake James. The rest is history.
NC State Trails Planner Smith Raynor was in Old Fort to start the process of designating a new section of FFST. There is a little more paperwork to do before it is official. Thanks to Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina for acquiring the property and building the trail.
F3ST is working on a Strategic Planning for the entire trail to make sure we are on track to complete the trail in 10 years!
The end result will be one map and spreadsheet showing trail on the ground, trail planned (with year start) and trail under construction. This map will be a tremendous benefit to us all in promoting, fundraising and securing grants for the trail.
Pictured: Bob Hunter, President F3ST and Steve Pierce, President McDowell Trails Association and F3ST Board Member.
At the December 2019 City of Morganton Council meeting, a construction contract was awarded for a one-mile paved path from the existing Catawba River Greenway (designated FFST) at Catawba Meadows Park to downtown along Green Street. It is scheduled to be completed in January 2022.
Town of Glen Alpine Mayor Bob Benfield and Clerk Melissa Lalonde are excited about the Fonta Flora State Trail (FFST) coming to the small town. Once home to the largest wooden structure in North Carolina, The Glen Alpine Springs Hotel, Glen Alpine is now a bedroom community. Benfield and Lalonde believe the trail will breathe new life into the town. Whether the FFST will be on the north or south side of the Catawba River near Glen Alpine has not been determined. Either way, Representative Blackwell suggested a loop trail from the main FFST to Linville Street in downtown Glen Alpine. This street houses a bicycle shop, a drug store and has store fronts fitted for a restaurant and an ice cream shop. Mayor Benfield said the town is looking at grant opportunities for trail construction and will work to include a loop instead of an out and back. Rep Blackwell and local trail advocate Beth Heile have now met with all Burke County municipalities to discuss trails as an economic development opportunity. In 2015, Rep Blackwell was the primary sponsor of the bill that created the Fonta Flora State Trail. Last year, Mayor Benfield became a board member of the newly formed Friends of the Fonta Flora State Trail.
Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina has been organizing volunteer workdays to get this 3-mile section ready. They acquired property in Old Fort and transferred it to North Carolina State Parks and Recreation. Soon to be part of the Fonta Flora State Trail, you can hike or bike this section in Old Fort starting in March. Partnerships make things happen!
The planning process has started on the Old Fort Trailhead and Park that will be located just north of I-40 on property purchased by the state with Connect NC Bond money. Old Fort Alderman Andrew Carlton, McDowell County Planner Blair Melton, F3ST President Bob Hunter and F3ST Executive Director Beth Heile met with Eric Woolridge of Destinations by Design to discuss amenities needed and next steps.
$300,000 has be raised to use for a grant match. $100,00 from each: Old Fort, McDowell County, a private donor
Beth Heile has been named Executive Director of Friends of the Fonta Flora State Trail, Inc. Judge Bob Hunter, President of F3ST, said “Having an Executive Director will provide the constant driving force behind our mission, ensuring a strong “friends” group to provide relentless advocacy, leadership, fundraising, and outreach.” The group has asked for funding from municipalities and counties until we receive full funding from the State of NC.
Heile is known a local trail advocate having started Friends of the Valdese Rec to help the Town of Valdese acquire 300 acres for Valdese Lakeside Park and working on the Catawba River Trail which will follow south of the river from Morganton to Long View.
F3ST Board Members Beth Heile, Jennifer Billstrom and Steve Pierce toured the McDowell sections of the Fonta Flora State Trail – the Joseph McDowell Historical Catawba Greenway and Greenlee Park. Heather Cotton, City of Marion Planning and Development Director, walked with them to discuss the progress of the trail and plans for the future.
Just getting off the ground, the F3ST Board had one meeting in person meeting in March 2020. Since that time, meetings have been online.
F3ST Board of Directors
|Burke||Burke County||Johnnie Carswell||Chair Burke County Board of Commissioners|
|Burke||City of Morganton||Butch McSwain||Council Member City of Morganton|
|Burke||Town of Glen Alpine||Bob Benfield||Mayor Town of Glen Alpine|
|Burke||Trails||Beth Heile||Founder Friends of Valdese Rec|
|Burke||Economic||Ed Phillips||CEO Burke County Tourism Development Authority|
|McDowell||McDowell County||David Walker||Chair McDowell County Board of Commissioners|
|McDowell||City of Marion||Woody Ayers||Council Member City of Marion|
|McDowell||Town of Old Fort||Jerome Effler||Alderman Town of Old Fort|
|McDowell||Trails||Steve Pierce||President McDowell Trails Association|
|McDowell||Economic||Steve Bush||Former Executive Director,
McDowell Chamber of Commerce
|Buncombe||Buncombe County||Carol Peterson||
Board Member Parks, Greenways, and Rec Advisory Board
|Buncombe||City of Asheville||Gwen Wisler||Vice Mayor and Councilwoman City of Asheville|
|Buncombe||Town of Black Mountain||Pam King||Alderman Town of Black Mountain|
|Buncombe||Trails||Jennifer Billstrom||Velo Girl Rides LLC & Kitsbow Cycling Apparel|
|Buncombe||Economic||Eric Oelschlaeger||President Epsilon, Inc.|
|General||Friends of Lake James||Judge Robert Hunter||Emeritus Board Member Friends of Lake James|
|General||Foothills Conservancy of NC||Andrew Kota||Executive Director Foothills Conservancy of NC|
|General||YMCA of Western North Carolina||Tim Blenco||COO, YMCA of Western North Carolina|
|General||Heathcare Foundation||Meg White||Senior Program Officer WNC Bridge Foundation|
|General||North Carolina State Parks||Smith Raynor||State Trails Planner North Carolina State Parks|
Thanks to the Fonta Flora State Trail coming through the Town of Old Fort and the willingness of many organizations to collaborate, the area has seen tremendous growth. Want to know a little more about what the partners are doing?
- McDowell Tech – starting trail construction program
- G5 Trail Collective – focused on backcountry trails
- Old Fort Ride House – meet before or after your ride/hike
- Kitsbow Cycling Apparel – moved to Old Fort from CA
- People on the Move – Black-led community collaborative
- Camp Grier – huge part of the G5 collective
- Hillman Beer – restaurant and brewery
- Foothills Conservancy of NC – building FFST trail
- US Forest Service – the Grandfather district supports trails
The slate of officers was confirmed at the August, 2020 Board Meeting. Bob Hunter had been serving as interim president with Blair Melton, McDowell County Planning, on loan to assist the group.
Bob Hunter – president
Tim Blenco – vice president
Beth Heile – treasurer
Jennifer Billstrom – secretary
Andrew Kota – at large
The concept of Friends of the Fonta Flora State Trail was announced at the December 2019 Lake James State Park Visitor’s Center Groundbreaking. At a reception held following the ceremony, Judge Robert Hunter told state and local officials, along with members from the trail community, of the plans to start a friends group and complete the Fonta Flora State Trail in 10 years!
Hunter said, “With the success of the Friends of Lake James and the plan for Fonta Flora Trail to loop Lake James and connecting Morganton to Asheville, it was obvious that a FFFST group was needed.”
Judge Hunter spent 18 years in the legislature and sponsored legislation for the State Parks Act and was instrumental in the creation of Lake James State Park.