Earlier this year, Friends of the Fonta Flora State Trail and McDowell County approached Foothills Conservancy for help acquiring a 12.7-acre property on the Catawba River in McDowell County to add to Marion’s Catawba River Greenway (Joseph McDowell Historical Catawba Greenway). Thanks to a conservation loan from a private donor, and the partnership of a conservation-minded landowner, FCNC purchased the land on May 5th.

In the upcoming years, FCNC will transfer the property to McDowell County for the construction of about half a mile of greenway trail that will connect to McDowell County’s Catawba River Park and serve as part of the Fonta Flora State Trail.

On May 5, Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina purchased a 12.7-acre property on the Catawba River in McDowell County for the purpose of adding onto Marion’s Catawba River Greenway. Once constructed, the trail will cross Highway 70 and connect the greenway to the McDowell County Catawba River Park. The section of greenway will also serve as part of the Fonta Flora State Trail, a planned 90-mile trail that will connect Morganton to Asheville.

Plans to purchase the tract began in early 2021, when Friends of the Fonta Flora State Trail, or F3ST, approached Foothills Conservancy to assist in acquiring the property. The conservancy then received a conservation loan from a private donor to purchase the parcel from landowner Ford Miller. Now that it is in the hands of the conservancy, the land trust plans to sell the property to McDowell County in the near future for the development of approximately half a mile of greenway trail.“Foothills Conservancy is very grateful for this opportunity to secure this acreage in partnership with Friends of Fonta Flora State Trail and McDowell County,” said Tom Kenney, land protection director at Foothills Conservancy. “We look forward to the future completion of the Catawba River Greenway, from City of Marion property to McDowell County’s Catawba River Park, and also to routing the Fonta Flora Trail west to Old Fort.”

The property acquisition ensures protection of approximately 0.3 miles of the Catawba River and its forested streambank. Once the trail and public parking area are constructed, it will provide opportunities for public river access and paddling, as well as for walking and biking. “The acquisition of this property greatly enhances the planned connection between the Catawba Greenway and the McDowell Greenway,” said Bob Hunter, president of F3ST’s board of directors. “It will provide much needed parking, a better trail location and better access. I want to thank Ford for making this property available for purchase and Foothills Conservancy and McDowell County for working with the Friends of Fonta Flora State Trail to complete this section of trail, connecting Morganton to Asheville by way of Marion and Old Fort.”

Beth Heile, executive director of F3ST, also commented on the importance of collaboration in trail projects: “Partnerships are key for Friends of the Fonta Flora State Trail to reach our goal of completing the trail in 10 years,” she said. “This transaction is a prime example of how a private land owner, Foothills Conservancy, F3ST and McDowell County can come together to significantly move the trail forward for the benefit of our region.”

Landowner Ford Miller also added: “I am glad that I was able to make this property available for purchase to enhance the Fonta Flora State Trail. I love McDowell County and am always glad to help whenever possible.” Not only is this acquisition a win for the Friends of the Fonta Flora State Trail, it is also a win for all in the area — from Marion and McDowell County residents to those living in or visiting the entire foothills region, from Old Fort to Morganton to Asheville.

“McDowell County is excited that Foothills Conservancy has purchased property that will allow for the connection of two popular greenway segments,” said McDowell County Manager Ashley Wooten. “The connection of these segments will further the goal of extending the Fonta Flora State Trail across the county.”

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