Burke River Trail – Foundation Laid

Burke River Trail Meeting Attendees: Doug Setzer – BCPS Director of Auxiliary Services, Wendi Craven – BCPS Board of Education, Averi Ritchie – WPCOG Planner, Larry Bragg – Natural Land Alliance, Representative Hugh Blackwell, Scott Carpenter – Deputy Burke County Manager, Doug Knight – Valdese Parks and Recreation Director, Shane Gardner – Principal DHS, Doug Hallyburton – Assistant Principal/Athletic Director. Not pictured: Beth Heile – President, Friends of the Valdese Rec

The foundation was laid today for the first section of the Burke River Trail – 4 miles from McGalliard Falls to Valdese Lakeside Park to Draughn High School to a private development.

The idea of the Burke River Trail started with Representative 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. More Details and Maps

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.

In advance of this meeting, Beth Heile, 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 non-profit, Natural Land Alliance owns 104-acres on the Catawba River to the east of Draughn High School (DHS). The non-profit is dedicated to projects that protect the environment with stream restoration, protecting endangered species, and recreation opportunities. Bragg is looking at building homes (which Burke County desperately 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 is willing to allow access for the trail, and with the Valdese Lakeside Park greenway set for construction this year, Representative Blackwell and Heile decided to get the players along the 4-mile stretch of this section of the Burke River Trail together to ensure they understood the goal of the trail and would welcome the trail on their property.

This brought in the Burke County Public School (BCPS) System – owner of the property between 300-acre Valdese Lakeside Park and the 104-acre Natural Land Alliance property.

Doug Setzer, BCPS Director of Auxiliary Services, Wendi Craven – BCPS Board of Education, Shane Gardner – Principal DHS and Doug Hallyburton – Assistant Principal/Athletic Director attended the meeting to represent the school system’s interests. 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.

A bonus piece of the meeting was a discussion of 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, Principal 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 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.

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