By Kayla Bott
Surrounding the serene views of Lake James, development continues on one of North Carolina’s newest greenway passes—the Fonta Flora State Trail (FFST). Plans for construction include more than 70 miles of trails linking the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (OVNHT) in Morganton to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) in Asheville, allowing hikers and cyclists to traverse North Carolina from east to west. The FFST will culminate in a 30-mile loop circling Lake James in Burke County.
“The creation of the FFST aims to increase the quality of life of visitors and the region’s diverse population by allowing easy access to our vast cultural and natural resources,” says Scott Carpenter, head of Burke County Community Development. “Planning and construction efforts have been made possible through the invaluable efforts of Burke County, Duke Energy, Crescent Communities, North Carolina State Parks, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Tri-State Company, Inc., private landowners, area residents and volunteers.”
Highlighting views of the lakeside, Catawba River Greenway and Linville Gorge Wilderness, the FFST honors the Fonta Flora community, which was partially flooded in 1916 by the Southern Power Company to create Lake James. The area has a rich cultural history including Native American trade along the Catawba and Linville Rivers, revolutionary war paths of patriots and abundant ecological diversity.
“The array of trail types being constructed—from wide, paved walkways and boardwalks to narrow bike trails—allows us to exhibit every nuance of the landscape while minimizing erosion and maintenance,” says Tim Johnson, operations manager of Burke County Community Development, expert trail architect and former North Carolina park ranger. “This design protects the landscape while giving people of varying experience and comfort levels the opportunity to explore the dynamic surroundings.”
Focused on improving community health and economics while raising ecological awareness and appreciation, the philosophy behind this construction is setting a new precedent for the future of eco-development. Keeping all inclines at less than ten percent and utilizing sustainable trail designs minimizes wear and tear on the path and its users. Connecting small towns through footpaths rather than roadways encourages tourists and residents to boost fitness while exploring nature and supporting small businesses.
“More than ten years ago, the Burke County Planning Department and Lake James Trails Association, in partnership with the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, began the process of planning a trail around Lake James,” says Carpenter. “Progress has been slow but steady until funds were recently secured in a re-licensing agreement for the Catawba-Wateree Hydroelectric Project by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.” Since then, Duke Energy has contributed more than $1 million to initiate the loop construction and OVNHT.
Ten miles have been completed to-date, including the three-mile MST connector, with ten more projected to be finished during the next year. By the end of 2018, work will begin on Fonta Flora County Park. Across the water from Lake James State Park, the landmark will feature a trailhead along with central parking, a disc golf course, picnicking area, boat access ramp and scenic zipline tours.
“In completion, the trail will unite the mountains to the foothills and the residential and visiting communities to the unique beauty of our home and heritage,” says Johnson. Black Mountain, Marion and other nearby towns have also begun construction on connecting trails in the hopes of making our entire state accessible by continuous foot and bike paths. Additional funding and volunteer efforts are needed to complete trails statewide.
For more information and the latest update on trail progress, visit burkenc.org/departments/community-development/fonta-flora-state-trail or call Tim Johnson at 828.764.9030. The Burke County Office is located on 200 Avery Avenue in Morganton.