VALDESE — The foundation has been laid for the first section of the Burke River Trail — 4 miles that run from McGalliard Falls to Valdese Lakeside Park, to Draughn High School and to a private development.
The idea of the Burke River Trail started with N.C. Rep. Hugh Blackwell’s desire to bring more trails to eastern Burke County. The perfect path to reach many of the small communities is the Catawba River. The Burke River Trail would start at the end of the Morganton Catawba River greenway and follow the river to Catawba County.
The Western Piedmont Council of Governments is doing a feasibility study to locate possible trail routes. This process includes a July meeting with stakeholders along the route — town managers, council members, trail groups and land owners. The meeting date and time will be announced later.
In advance of this meeting, Beth Heile, president of Friends of the Valdese Rec, mailed a letter to large landowners along the river to share the trail concept and ask them to consider the trail in their development plans.
Upon receipt of the letter, Larry Bragg contacted Heile to discuss the possibility of the trail coming through his development.
His nonprofit, Natural Land Alliance, owns 104 acres on the Catawba River east of Draughn High School and is dedicated to projects that preserve the environment with stream restoration, endangered species protection and recreation opportunities. Bragg is looking at building homes, which Burke County needs, plus a marina for refueling and boat slip rentals (pending permits). Profits from home sales go back to fund the company’s mission of protecting the environment.
With the news that Natural Land Alliance has granted access for the trail, and with the Valdese Lakeside Park greenway set for construction this year, Blackwell and Heile decided to get the players along the 4-mile stretch of this section of the Burke River Trail together for a meeting to ensure they understood the goal of the trail and would welcome the trail on their property.
This brought in Burke County Public Schools, which owns the property between the 300-acre Valdese Lakeside Park and the 104-acre Natural Land Alliance property.
BCPS officials attended the meeting to represent the school system’s interests, including Doug Setzer, director of auxiliary services; Wendi Craven, member of the Burke County Board of Education; Shane Gardner, principal of Draughn High School, and Doug Hallyburton, assistant principal/athletic director. The current DHS cross-country trail would be included as part of the Burke River Trail. Craven was active with the Enola Trail at Patton High School and has experience with Burke Soil and Water for protecting wetlands.
“Her experience in this area and being a school board member will be a huge asset,” Heile said.
A bonus piece of the meeting was a discussion about the possibility of teaching trail building classes in Burke County schools. Last month, Heile contacted Craven about a class for high school students that would cover sustainable trail layout, construction and maintenance. The classes would provide students a skill relevant to the region and hopefully keep them in Burke County after graduation — either working on or volunteering on trails. With no decision on how regular classes will proceed this school year, it is not the best time to add a new class. However, Gardner liked the idea of incorporating the material into an existing class or having a trail building club that Friends of the Valdese Rec would sponsor.
Scott Carpenter, deputy county manager and the force behind the Fonta Flora State Trail, was present to provide guidance in the process. In creating the 26.5-mile loop trail around Lake James, Carpenter has plenty of experience in property easements, lake permitting and trail construction.
“Friends of the Valdese Rec is continuously looking for opportunities to promote Valdese Lakeside Park and the town of Valdese,” Heile said. “The more trail systems that come through our area, the better. Thanks to Representative Hugh Blackwell for leading the way — first with the Wilderness Gateway State Trail and now with the Burke River Trail.”
To learn more about plans for the Burke River Trail, visit friendsofthe valdeserec.org.
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