Fonta Flora State Trail comes to town

The Oaks Trail in Black Mountain joins larger state trail system

Fred McCormick

It’s a quick, easy trek from downtown Black Mountain to Veterans Park on the west side of town if you use The Oaks Trail, which takes runners, walker and bicyclists through the tall pines lining either side of the path.

The half-mile stretch of paved walkway, which plays a key role in the town’s greenway system, is now part of a much larger system, known as the Fonta Flora State Trail, that will one day connect Morganton to Asheville.

The Fonta Flora State Trail was set in motion around four years ago, when Burke County’s deputy county manager and community development director Scott Carpenter began looking for a project that would bring recreational opportunities to his county.

“I found a document that had been shelved that said there would be money for a trail,” he said.

The trail in question was a yet-to-be-named 30-mile loop around Lake James, which straddles the border between the counties of Burke and McDowell.

Carpenter assembled a committee to work on a plan for what was initially called the Lake James Loop Trail.

“After we finished (the plan) I got to thinking, ‘Maybe this should be a state trail,’” he said. “I drafted some legislation to turn it into a state trail, turning it into the Fonta Flora Loop Trail.”

The legislation was passed unanimously in 2015 and signed by former governor Pat McCrory later that year.

Carpenter wasn’t finished, however.

“Within six months I had the idea that this trail should extend to Asheville,” he said. “So I started talking to people along the corridor.”

Black Mountain’s director of planning and development Josh Harrold was one of the people contacted by Carpenter.

“Scott contacted me last spring,” Harrold said. “I went over there and met with him and he showed me what they were working on and some of the trail they had already finished out that way.”

Harrold joined Carpenter and administrators from Buncombe County, Marion, Old Fort and others in an effort to see if a trail from Morganton to Asheville was feasible.

The Oaks trail was designated a portion of the Fonta Flora State Trail following a shareholders meeting in Morganton in December, according to Harrold.

“This is a big deal for the entire region, to get a trail with this kind of length and extension” Harrold said. “Ultimately what will happen, even though it will be a few years, is people will be able to take this trail and loop back around on the Mountains to Sea Trail to Lake James.”

The Fonta Flora State Trail, which will ultimately span three counties, will be a “major recreation destination” in the future, according to Carpenter.

“If we connect into Asheville, then that helps Morganton, which then helps Burke County,” he said. “It helps everybody on the route if we become an economic ribbon that’s tied together by this trail.”

A portion of Black Mountain’s Riverwalk Greenway will also be designated part of the state trail in the future, according to Harrold, who said he plans on looking into funding for a corridor study on how to best connect the depot in Black Mountain to the depot in Old Fort at some point in 2017.

Carpenter said the connection between Old Fort and Black Mountain is something he would like to see expedited.

“The National Parks Service dedicated the Point Lookout Trail as part of the Fonta Flora State Trail this year,” he said. “So that was around 3.5 miles of trail that’s now officially designated as part of the state trail.”

With the pieces of the trail still coming together, Carpenter said a master plan for Fonta Flora State Trail is among the next steps. The plan will likely feature subsections for various sections located within the larger trail.

“It’s too early even for a timeline for completion of the trail,” Carpenter said. “I would like to see us have 30 miles of trails around Lake James within six years of having started and this year we’ve already finished 7-10 miles.”