By David Rogers. August 12, 2016. BLOWING ROCK, NC — With a central message that connectivity between and among North Carolina’s cities and towns is of paramount importance to the state’s economic development, Governor Pat McCrory was on hand with state and local officials Friday morning to announce an NCDOT-funded grant of $145,000 to help pay for a key pedestrian bridge on the Middle Fork Greenway. In conjunction with the Blue Ridge Conservancy, the event was hosted by the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce on its front lawn.
COVER IMAGE: With a map of the Middle Fork Greenway behind him, Governor Pat McCrory waits to speak to approximately 80 business and government leaders from Blowing Rock, Boone, and Watauga County, as well as state and national legislative representatives. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
[brmed180]Blowing Rock News coverage of The Town of Blowing Rock is made possible by a sponsorship from Blowing Rock Medical Park and PLUS Urgent Care, divisions of UNC-Caldwell Health Care
Charles Hardin, Executive Director of the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce welcomed the assemblage of local business folks, as well as government officials from Blowing Rock, Watauga County, and Boone, along with representatives from the state and federal legislative bodies.
When we all work together, public and private, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.
“The Middle Fork Greenway is a great example of how public-private partnerships create wonderful community assets,” Hardin noted in his greeting. “With non-profit leaders working with our three local governments, Boone, Blowing Rock and Watauga County, as well as the business community and other community organizations, the Greenway is finally becoming a reality.”
Hardin gave way to Blowing Rock Mayor J.B. Lawrence, who acknowledged, “We are so excited about the Middle Fork Greenway. It will add so much to what I like to call, ‘The Blowing Rock Experience.’ If you don’t think a greenway can transform an area, go up to Damascus, Virginia and see what that trail did…It may not have that much of an effect on Boone and Blowing Rock, but it will enhance the experience that we all know.
“This is being paid for by private money, public money, and state and local grants,” the mayor observed, “and we are appreciative of each dollar that is being put into it. It is an expensive project — It’s over my pay grade — but it is going to be a real nice enhancement. It both brings people (to town) and it gives others something else to do. When we all work together, public and private, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.”
Lawrence introduced the governor by noting, “Governor McCrory has been to Blowing Rock more than any other governor of North Carolina in my lifetime. He has spent more time in Blowing Rock,” the mayor quipped, “than even Jimmy Holshouser — and he was born here!”
McCrory was quick to credit the Town leadership, including the government and the business leaders, for “…preparing Blowing Rock for the next generation. You are really visionaries here. We all have a responsibility to leave this place a better place than when we arrived. This project is doing just that.”
The Governor gave special props to NCDOT board member Jim Palermo. “This grant from the state would not be happening with him,” McCrory said. “He fought for the sidewalks along the new road here to make sure it was pedestrian friendly. He knew how strongly I feel about pedestrian-friendly access. He is fighting to get (U.S. 321) built as quickly as possible, yet trying not to disturb traffic too much — which is a lose-lose proposition!
I don’t believe any town can survive on an island by itself. Every town must be connected in as many directions as possible to other towns and economic development areas.
“When I became (Governor),” McCrory recalled, “I got together with my transportation leadership, including Jim Palermo, and we borrowed a model that I used as mayor of Charlotte. I firmly believe we need connectivity. I don’t believe that any town can survive on an island by itself. Every town must be connected in as many directions to other towns and economic development areas (as possible). If you are an island by yourself these days, you will not survive. You must be connected, whether it be for travel and tourism, or for industry, or for medical needs.
“Our whole vision for this state, and for transportation and education in particular,” McCrory shared, “is something we call NC Connects. What we are doing is drawing circles across the whole state, the 535 miles from Murphy to Manteo, and asking, ‘What areas do we need to connect in North Carolina and how are we going to best connect them?’ And not only are we asking about connecting within North Carolina, but we are connecting with areas of Tennessee, the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, the Myrtle Beach area and Rock Hill in South Carolina. Those connections across state borders are also important for our long-term economic development and survival.
“But NC Connects is also about connecting within a region,” added McCrory. “It’s not just about roads…It’s also about pedestrian-friendly access and fighting for that access. Especially here in the mountains, it is hard to build the roads as it is, but we have to make sure that a walkable area remains walkable. We have to encourage pedestrian activity and bike traffic, too. Any barrier is a blockage to that connectivity.
“The visionary leadership that sees the connectivity potential between Blowing Rock, Boone and the Blue Ridge Parkway, for example,” McCrory suggested, “I think is just a remarkable vision. It is not only going to help the quality of life for people living in the region, it is also going to help our travel and tourism. It will be a great marketing force, bringing dollars in from out of state to help pay for our roads, our teachers and our education.”
McCrory summed up his remarks by saying, “Trails and greenways across North Carolina provide our residents and visitors with an opportunity to enjoy the state’s beauty while improving their health and generating economic activity. The Middle Fork Greenway will provide benefits to tourism, health, and overall quality of life for High Country residents and visitors.”
The 90-foot bridge funded by the state’s grant will span the Middle For of the South Fork New River near where the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses U.S. 321 as part of the 6.5 mile Middle Fork Greenway. It will also help provide access to the cross-state Mountains-to-Sea Trail that crosses U.S. 321 with the Parkway.
Designed to be made of laminate wood with a stone fascia, the bridge will meet standards set by the National Park Service and Blue Ridge Parkway. Construction will begin once other funding is finalized for a 1.3-mile stretch of the greenway that includes the bridge.