Rocky Knob Trails Status Update

Post by:
Eric Woolridge, Director of Tourism Planning, Watauga County Tourism Development Authority
Eric serves as Watauga County’s project manager for Rocky Knob Park.

Fifteen months ago, Watauga County, in partnership with the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority (WCTDA), completed the land purchase for what is now home to Rocky Knob Park. This 185-acre park will ultimately be anchored by 7-9 miles of unique, destination quality mountain bike trails.

Like many in our community, the WCTDA wants to open Phase I of Rocky Knob ASAP. Phase I includes two loops: Rocky Branch Trail (1.6 miles) and Lower Knob Trail (1 mile). For Phase I, Trail Dynamics was awarded the hybrid trail building contract, which requires local volunteers and results in a significant cost savings. During fall 2010, Trail Dynamics benched in all trail for Rocky Branch Trail and nearly half of the Lower Knob Trail (Trail Dynamics will finish up the Lower Knob Trail beginning in April). As agreed, Boone Area Cyclists (BAC) amassed a volunteer army to complete all trail finish work. All special projects, involving berms, boardwalks, armoring, etc., are beyond the scope of the WCTDA’s contract with Trail Dynamics and agreement with BAC. All special projects were to be negotiated as necessary between the WCTDA and Trail Dynamics. It was awesome, then, when BAC volunteers cranked out five much needed boardwalks to maneuver over wet areas. Because of this effort, in November of 2010, many of us were certain that the opening of Rocky Branch Trail was weeks away. After assessing the trail last week and the plethora of never-before-seen wet areas, unfortunately, we are months away from opening the Rocky Branch Trail. That’s the reality.
There are approximately five major water crossings that must be completed prior opening Rocky Branch Trail. We must construct a combination of elaborate, labor intensive rock armored trail sections, causeways, and raised platforms. Ideally, we will hire Trail Dynamics to construct the platforms or at a minimum train local craftsman interested in assisting. I am waiting for a proposal from Trail Dynamics that will outline material and labor costs for this construction. After I received this proposal and meet with other county officials, I will provide an update on how we plan to move forward. In the meantime, the BAC trail boss, Kristian Jackson, will provide direction for the best use of volunteer labor, particularly for Dirty Thursdays.
Prior to the opening of Rocky Branch Trail and all future trails there must be consensus among the professional trail builder, Watauga County’s risk management advisors, and BAC leadership.
The county has just signed a new contract for Phase II trail construction. Benchmark Trails, a professional trail builder from South Carolina, won this bid. This hybrid trail contract includes trail design and trail benching similar to the Phase I contract. However, included in this contract is a budget for special projects. We expect that this provision will prevent some of the delays we are currently experiencing. We expect Phase II will provide approximately four-miles of new trail in addition to special projects. Regardless, Rocky Knob is rocky, wet, and a difficult place to build trail. We’re all aware that the elements that make this project difficult are the same ones that will make it unique.
Thanks to everyone in the community and those that live outside the area that continue to volunteer and patiently wait for opening day. We’ve come a long way in a short period of time. I look forward to providing another update in near future. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me via email: eric@exploreboonearea.com
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