Most people consider the Fonta Flora Trail to be a loop around Lake James. While that was the original vision of the 2014 Lake James Loop Trail Master Plan, the concept grew to become a state trail.
On location at the next segment of state trail to be built in Burke County, NC Rep. Hugh Blackwell remarked, “The first trails legislation that I helped pass established Fonta Flora as an official part of North Carolina’s trails system. When fully completed, the trail will run from Morganton west through Burke County all the way to Buncombe County. Later, I did the same for Overmountain Victory Trail. I was pleased also to be actively involved in state funds being made available for construction of the actual state trails so that they become not just visions but actualities. Today, as a result of the state appropriation, I am proud to join in celebrating part of Fonta Flora and Overmountain Victory becoming a reality in Burke County.”
Funding has been a major factor in getting more trail miles planned and built. In 2020, the Great Trails State Coalition (GTSC) formed with the goal of state funding for trails. In 2021, the NC Year of the Trail designation led by the GTSC and championed by Rep Hugh Blackwell passed legislation to Inspire people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds to try trails, to demonstrate the importance of trails to elected officials and to boost outdoor recreation tourism across the state through Year of the Trail events. A part of the campaign resulted in a new Complete the Trails Fund being included in the 2021 NC State Budget that provided monies for each North Carolina State Trail, which are units of the State Parks system.
In areas where more than one trail will be in the same corridor, the funds can be shared. Sharing resources is Burke County’s goal, as they look to move the Fonta Flora State Trail west to McDowell County’s Black Bear Access Park that opened in November with hiking trails, a campground, and a fishing pier that is accessed by FFST. The Burke County section of trail near the neighborhoods 1780 and The Enclave is both Fonta Flora State Trail (FFST) and Overmountain Victory State Trail (OVST) which will allow shared funding. Working with these state trail partners, the county will put out a Request for Qualifications to select a design team who will develop final design and construction documents for the exact route and determine necessary repairs to existing trail. Opportunities for construction of 2.2 miles of new trail and maintenance of 1.75 miles existing trail will be starting in late 2024.
Not just partners in funding, these allies in support, planning and promotion of the trail are a huge component in moving trails forward. With the 2021 NC State Budget came the assignment of a nonprofit for each state trail. Friends of Fonta Flora State Trail (F3ST), organized in 2019, is the official nonprofit for FFST and OVNCST-Friends was formed in 2021 for Overmountain Victory State Trail.
Beth Heile, immediate past president of F3ST and founding member of the GTSC, said, “Starting in 2019 as an all-volunteer organization with the financial and board member support from Burke County, Morganton and Glen Alpine, F3ST has shown that trails in our region are important for health, recreation, transportation, conservation and economic development opportunities and provide a great return on investment. We are grateful the State of North Carolina now recognizes those many benefits to the point of providing state funding assistance for trails.”
Having the nonprofit organizations and a new county staff position dedicated to trails will assist in the current plan projecting completion of FFST in Burke County in 2030. “Burke County, wanting to focus on completing the trail program in its jurisdiction, hired Sarah Chabaane in June 2023. With her solid background in recreation resource planning and her dedication to developing outdoor places for the community to use and enjoy, trail planning and construction in Burke County continues to make progress”, commented Alan Glines, Community Development Director.
These partners have already been working on a short, but critical portion of co-located trail across Canal Bridge. Officials have always known that Canal Bridge on Hwy 126 near Benfields Landing Road needed a bicycle and pedestrian friendly solution before it could be designated as State Trail. To create separation between people and vehicles, many ideas have been discussed including a separate pedestrian bridge or an attachment on the side of the existing bridge. Due to the width of the bridge, NCDOT will permit a lane shift to allow bike riders and walkers room to safely cross on the east side of the bridge. The barrier to the water needs to be raised for safety and a sidewalk poured, but no need for a new structure. Burke County has been working with a local engineering firm, Mattern and Craig and NCDOT on the design with funding from all partners. The goal is to have a safe passage by next fall along with around 1.5 miles of new trail on state park property on each side of the bridge.
FFST is a planned 100-mile hiking and biking trail connecting Morganton to Asheville that includes the loop around Lake James. Approximately 24 of the 33 completed FFST miles along the three-county route are in Burke County. Hikers and bikers can access 20 miles of Fonta Flora State Trail between Lake James State Park and Harris Whisnant Road and 4 miles along the Morganton Greenway. See fontaflorastatetrail.com for all access points.The OVST will follow the 225 miles of the planned route of the National Historic Trail that passes through North Carolina. The trail follows the paths that the patriot militia took as they mustered to fight the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780. Completed miles in Burke County are the Morganton Greenway and a section of trail in Lake James State Park.