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42 Miles of Old Fort Trails Project Approved and Funded

United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service Announced: First Six Miles Trail Construction will begin in January 2022.

The long awaited "Old Fort Trails Project" has just become a reality! After years of planning, fundraising, partnering and advocating, the U.S.Forest Service has approved this collaborative, community-driven project that enables all users to access and experience Pisgah National Forest lands around the town of Old Fort, NC.

The Old Fort Trails Project is a citizen-driven initiative to acquire and construct a sustainable, connected trail system within the boundaries of Pisgah National Forest that allows mountain bikers, hikers and other nonmotorized users to enjoy the forest year round.

Read full Press Release by the USDA of Agriculture Forest Service:

Release Date: Nov 17, 2021

The First Six Miles of Trail Construction Will Begin Immediately

November 16, 2021 — In a press conference today, the community of Old Fort, N. C. announces plans to build 42 miles of new, accessible trails for people of all abilities and backgrounds in Pisgah National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service has formally approved the plans, and funding for construction of the first six miles of the system has been provided by the Dogwood Health Trust. Groundbreaking on the Old Fort Trails Project will begin in January 2022 and the first sections of trail and parking area are slated to open by late summer.

The Old Fort Trails Project is grounded in equity, supported by a grassroots effort and widespread citizen participation, to provide opportunities for all users in an accessible, sustainable, and connected trail system in national forest lands surrounding Old Fort, N.C.

The first concepts for the trail system emerged out of a trail maintenance and advocacy group called the G5 Trail Collective. What began as conversations between traditional users and the Pisgah National Forest’s Grandfather Ranger District quickly picked up momentum in 2019 when the project was embraced by a diverse coalition of not-for-profit groups, individual citizens, and employers in Old Fort that had gathered to focus on equitable development in the town under the leadership of People on the Move for Old Fort and the West Marion Community Forum. After just two years, trail construction starts immediately.

The coalition includes:

People on the Move for Old Fort, a Black led community collaboration group from the Old Fort Community Forum organized to address community engagement and build interest in both civic and economic challenges facing the town of Old Fort that grew out of the West Marion Community Forum;

The G5 Trail Collective, organized under Camp Grier, is a non-profit partnership with the U.S. Forest Service Grandfather Ranger District to build community connections to the Pisgah National Forest through collaboration, trail development, and maintenance on public lands;

Eagle Market Streets Development, a not for profit, but for public benefit, community development corporation whose mission is to develop people, property, and businesses in communities of color across North Carolina;

The Grandfather Ranger District, the local management unit of the Pisgah National Forest, spanning from the Buncombe County line to Boone, N.C, dedicated to increasing sustainability and accessibility of its trail systems on the iconic landscapes it covers including the lands surrounding Old Fort;

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Texas Tech, the university partners that bring community engaged archaeology to the project that speak to the deep history of Native American societies, colonial settlement, railroad and timber development, African American communities, and others whose lifeways have left recoverable traces in and around the National Forest;

Camp Grier, a non-profit organization that began in Old Fort 70 years ago and has been focused on introducing young people of all backgrounds to the outdoors for more than 50 years, offering more than 100 scholarships each year and removing barriers to outdoor access through summer and year-round programs;

Kitsbow Cycling Apparel, an apparel brand based in Old Fort that has brought careers and jobs in manufacturing back to the area, while also dedicated to improving Old Fort for the community’s benefit; and

McDowell Technical Community College, the local educational resource that partnered to launch a trail construction and sustainability program in Old Fort to grow professionals in the trail building industry and train volunteers, trail managers, and local citizens in trail maintenance.

The coalition is led by: Lavita Logan the Project Coordinator for People on the Move for Old Fort, Stephanie Swepson Twitty the CEO of Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation, Jason McDougald the Executive Director of Camp Grier, and Lisa Jennings the Recreation Program Manager for the Grandfather Ranger District on Pisgah National Forest.

Lisa Jennings of the U.S. Forest Service explained, “The Old Fort Trails project is more than new trails -- it is a result of what can happen when we dream big together and intentionally engage everyone in the community in caring for their public lands. This model for community engagement represents a new trail system in the Pisgah National Forest that has been planned, designed, and built with broad community input from the very beginning and continuing throughout the project.”

A series of open community forums were held to both solicit input, and present tentative, draft trail designs. Feedback was frequent and in-depth, and at each step the input changed the plan, so that the final version approved today by the U.S. Forest Service is not the product of experts and consultants but the community of users in and around Old Fort specifying what they need and want in order to lower barriers and access the forest.

Initial funding for the first phase of planning this ambitious project was funded by People on the Move for Old Fort, IMBA, Kitsbow, and other private citizens for a total of more than $200,000. However, more funding was needed to begin construction on the first miles of trail.

The G5 Trail Collective was recently awarded $489,800 from the Dogwood Health Trust to further equitable access to the trail system and improve the economy in Old Fort. This will fund the construction of approximately 6 miles of multi-use trails by August 2022, as well as a parking lot, project management, signage, and outreach to engage a diversity of trail users.

“We are delighted to support community-driven projects that improve healthy lifestyles for residents, bolster the local economy, and attract careers and jobs to Western North Carolina – and that align so closely with our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” stated Dr. Susan Mims, interim CEO of Dogwood Health Trust.

“Even without the first foot of trail yet built, this project already proves how a love for the outdoors brings people together from very different backgrounds and cultures, for a common purpose and for the joy of being in nature,” explained Lavita Logan, community leader and Project Coordinator for People on the Move for Old Fort.

“This started as a discussion of how to give users in the forest a way to get from the amazing backcountry trails into downtown Old Fort. Through community engagement efforts, this initial concept has expanded into a plan for 42 miles of new trail. That is the power of community involvement,” noted Jason McDougald, Executive Director of Camp Grier. “We’ve touched something in the community that is bigger than any one of us, and has the power to bring people together around something that is fundamental to our health and well being.”

More than 110 jobs and careers have bloomed in the past two years because of the existing trails and the promise of additional recreation use, all within walking and biking distance from the Old Fort downtown on 70,000+ acres of public lands that surround the town. In addition to the construction funds awarded to the G5 Trail Collective, Eagle Market Street Development Corporation was awarded $280,000 by the Dogwood Health Trust to expand services in Old Fort to support small business and equitable development.

Stephanie Swepson Twitty, CEO of Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation, stated, “Not only is this project an improvement for our public lands, giving people more ways to get into the forest and enjoy it, but also it helps illuminate the tremendous opportunities for jobs and careers. We must look at the needs holistically, addressing local infrastructure and inclusive housing, as well as supporting local businesses and communities of color to participate in economic development that leads to generational wealth and economic mobility. These are the first steps in a sustainable economy and conscious growth of our town.”

The coalition leaders are committed to continuing the community-led process as the project moves into construction. Community meetings are scheduled next month. Sign up here to participate in the December 2, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. and here for the December 9, 2021 12:30 p.m. virtual sessions. For more information on the trails and ways to volunteer and get involved, please visit the G5 Trail Collective Website.

wnctimes Marjorie Farrington November 29, 2021

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