Ashton Godwin, legislative liaison with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, recently visited Burke County to tour water access sites along the Burke River Trail, hosted by N.C. Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-86).
The 20-mile Burke River Trail will follow the south side of the Catawba River, dipping down to the small towns of eastern Burke County. The hiking and biking trail will be a mix of natural surface, crushed cinder and pavement as it wanders along the river banks and into downtowns.
Godwin and Blackwell have met several times to discuss partnering on potential trailhead sites.
Rhodhiss Town Manager Rick Justice, Mayor Allen Spencer, Mike Phillips, town council member, and other stakeholders welcomed Godwin to the Weaver Lane Boat Ramp, where Justice shared his vision for the 131-acre property to host camping, picnicking and trails, including the BRT.
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Because the property is owned by Duke Energy, managed by NCWRC as a motorized boat ramp and is in Burke County’s jurisdiction, it was critical for representatives from each entity to be present for the discussion, said Beth Heile, trail coordinator. The visit continued with a meeting at the Copper Penny Restaurant in Rhodhiss.
Alan Glines, community development director for Burke County and deputy county manager, said the meeting was “a beginning step to view opportunities for regional recreation facilities in eastern Burke County, along with potential partnerships with state and local stakeholders.”
“There was a Burke County plan from about 15 years ago that looked at this exact recreational use, but the economy at the time did not allow it,” said Treg McGee, county parks director, who also attended the meeting.
A key topic was the future of the Burke County Convenience Center parcel adjacent to the boat ramp tract. After the Rhodhiss Road convenience center is relocated to U.S. 70 in Icard, the 44-acre site will be empty.
“Further research is needed to learn what is possible from a health and safety standpoint on the former landfill property,” Heile said. “The hope is that the property could become part of the recreation plan.”
Traveling west, NCWRC and Duke Energy stopped at Valdese Lakeside Park to meet with Valdese Mayor Charles Watts, Town Manager Seth Eckard and David Andersen, parks and recreation director and town liaison with NCWRC. The commission has designed a combination fishing pier and kayak launch for the park.
“We have a lot of visitors at Valdese Lakeside Park, and these amenities would certainly bring more people to see what a great asset we have,” Andersen said. “We regularly hear from our visitors that they would love to have a place to fish or to more easily access the water.”
Cayce Brennan with Duke Energy’s Lake Services handles pier permitting requests and explained the process to the group. Once Duke has accepted the complete application, which includes permissions from several environmental agencies, it will require Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval. All agencies are working as quickly as possible to get this fishing pier and kayak launch ready for Valdese. Watts expressed appreciation to Duke and NCWRC for their efforts.
“We continue to add new amenities to our town that will be beneficial to our citizens and pull in newcomers who want to make Valdese their home,” Watts said.
Grant Buckner, watershed manager for the Northern Basin, and Ryan Carter, policy manager with the Catawba Riverkeeper, updated attendees on the recently published “Northern Basin Restoration and Protection Plan” and the organization’s restoration efforts in the Northern Basin. They highlighted the need to address restrictive state statutes that limit a community’s authority to handle storm-water runoff.
The tour concluded at the Rocky Ford Access in Morganton. The gravel parking lot at the end of the Morganton Greenway, also designated Fonta Flora State Trail, is where the BRT will begin.
NCWRC visited the location previously to determine the feasibility of a fishing pier. At that same meeting, a representative from the N.C. Department of Transportation verified the BRT could continue under the U.S. 64 and N.C. 18 bridges. The goal for the access is better parking, restrooms, boat access, fishing pier and extension of the Morganton Greenway via the BRT. Extending the greenway to Riverview Apartments was in the original greenway plan.
“In addition to providing a healthy lifestyle to citizens, the Burke River Trail will have a positive economic impact to the towns through tourism, and those wanting to move to an area with trails and outdoor activities,” Blackwell said.
Other trail updates
The McGalliard Creek Bridge installation creates the first 2 miles of the Burke River Trail, Heile noted. A section close by will be on the ground within the next year. The Burke County Board of Education voted at its August meeting to allow the BRT to cross the Draughn High School property. The town of Valdese will hold the trail easement allowing the connection to Valdese Lakeside Park. The trail will follow Hoyle Creek and Lake Rhodhiss to reach a proposed housing development called Valdese Bluffs.
Vulcan Materials Co. in Morganton has property along the river trail corridor that is in the county’s jurisdiction. Steve Jetter, Vulcan’s WNC area operations manager, accompanied Shane Prisby, Burke County community development operations manager, and Heile for a walk on the Vulcan property to verify there is room for the trail a safe distance from Vulcan’s operations. Prisby shared trail design strategies, while Jetter shared best practices for quarries.
Vulcan will continue its commitment to education by placing several exhibits along its portion of the trail for users to learn about how rocks and minerals are used in society.
“We are excited about this opportunity to partner with the Burke River Trail stakeholders by offering part of our buffer land along the river for the trail segment,” said Denise Hallett, Vulcan community and government relations manager.
The route is still being adjusted in Drexel, Rutherford College, Long View and Hildebran. Though not part of the Burke River Trail, downtown Morganton has a connection to Fonta Flora State Trail. Planning from downtown Glen Alpine to the FFST is in the works.
Heile is under contract with the Western Piedmont Council of Governments to serve as Burke River Trail coordinator to narrow down the route, obtain easements and get trail on the ground.
“Having grown up in eastern Burke County and attended East Burke High School, I am thrilled to be working on a regional trail that will showcase what the small communities in eastern Burke County have to offer,” Heile said.
Trail organizers will hold a drop-in public input session from 4-6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13, at Rutherford College Town Hall at 980 Malcolm Blvd. Heile will show maps of the area, answer questions and receive feedback.