A newly created state trail is a concept at this point but it is proposed to connect to South Mountains State Park, cross Interstate 40 and reach into the town of Valdese’s newest park.
N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill into two week s that creates Wilderness Gateway State Trail in the South Mountains range in McDowell, Rutherford, Burke and Catawba counties. The state Division of Parks and Recreation also will conduct a feasibility study that will further refine a corridor for the new Wilderness Gateway State Trail that would connect Chimney Rock State Park to South Mountains State Park, the Town of Valdese, the City of Hickory, the newly authorized Overmountain Victory State Trail and other natural areas located in Burke and Catawba counties, according to a release from the state. The division is expected to report back to the Environmental Review Commission and the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources by Dec. 1, according to the new legislation.
A map of the proposed trail shows it circle through the town of Maiden, cities of Newton and Hickory work its way west into Burke County. It shows a leg of the trail heading to Valdese and its 300-acre Valdese Lakeside Park.
The trail is proposed to cross Mineral Springs Mountain Road, N . C . 18 South and Old N . C . 18 and into South Mountains State Park. It would travel between the park and game lands of South Mountains, crossing U.S. 64 and continuing west, eventually connecting to Chimney Rock State Park. It also is expected to cross with the Overmountain Victory Trail. The Overmountain Victory Trail is a federal trail but the new bill co-designates it as a state trail as well, said N.C. Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke).
Blackwell said last week that he hopes the state can collaborate with the federal government on the trail and help provide funding that would highlight the history of the Overmountain Victory Trail that also could be used as a western entrance to South Mountains State Park.
Blackwell said there’s some property off U.S. 64 on the east side going toward Rutherfordton that could be used as an entrance to South Mountains. However, the land through there is quite rough, he said. He said the trail would both celebrate and memorialize the Overmountain M en and also create more access to South Mountains State Park.
The state parks and recreation division has been assigned to identify the route the trail will take, because at this point, it’s a conceptual trail, Blackwell said.
A meeting in June between state parks and local officials and a memo from Ben Rippe, park planner for the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, said Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina is making significant effort to acquire parcels to create a corridor between the northeastern corner of South Mountains State Park and the town of Valdese to the north.
In the memo, Rippe said Valdese is interested in connecting pedestrian walkways with the Wilderness Gateway trail. Officials there are working with the N.C. Department of Transportation to get the bridge over Interstate 40 Exit 111 rebuilt to include a pedestrian walkway and be bicycle friendly, he said.
Rippe said in the memo there is a small creek which travels from Children’s Park in Valdese up toward Valdese Lakeside Park, adding that locating a trail/path along this creek would be a great way to increase connectivity.
How the trail would connect to Valdese hasn’t been worked out exactly, said Scott Carpenter, planning director for Burke County. He said acquisition of property would have to take place .
Carpenter said building the entire trail is going to be a very difficult, long task that will take a lot of money, people and grants.
The legislation that creates the Wilderness Gateway State Trail and co-designates the Overmountain Victory Trail said the state can receive donations of appropriate land and can purchase other needed lands for the Overmountain Victory State Trail with existing funds in the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and other available sources of funding.
Blackwell said there is $2 million in the state budget that could help get the trail started.
Sharon McBrayer is a staff writer and can be reached at email@example.com or at 828-432-8946.