Burke County is primed to become a destination for tourists looking for some adventure.
And officials are working on making sure it happens.
Burke County Planner Scott Carpenter and representatives with Destination by Design, with whom the county contracted, unveiled on Thursday a master plan for a county park and a state loop trail at Lake James.
Between 143 acres Crescent Resources gave to Burke County and another 180 acres the county has a 40- to 50-year lease from Duke Energy, the county wants to create a park and trail that will attract outdoor enthusiasts and tourists. Carpenter said construction on 5 miles of Fonta Flora State Trail is expected to start in April.
The master plan calls for a mix of public and private program elements, or activities.
The public program elements call for an 18-hole disc golf course, an adventure playground, a deep water launch, fishing pier, picnic area, eagle nest platform, event pavilion, visitor’s dock, parking and toilets.
The private program elements, which mean private businesses would offer the activities or services, call for an outfitter base camp, a yurt — round canvass tents — village, overlook pavilion, provisions store, kayak livery and zip line.
There also will be a trailhead and directional markers along the trail. Duke Energy is currently installing a $900,000 road leading to the park, Carpenter said. The road is being built across from Fish Hatchery Road on N.C. 126.
The long-term plan is to link with trails leading from Morganton to Marion, Old Fort, Black Mountain and into Asheville, Carpenter said. The 26-mile loop trail will intersect with the Mountains to the Sea Trail and Overmountain Victory National HistoricTrail. The trail will start at Harris Whisnant Road and end at the Bridgewater trailhead, according to county officials.
Eric Woolridge, a principal partner in Destination by Design, said the master plan is a vision of what could be but what it will turn out to be will depend on what private businesses can be convinced to offer activities.
The idea is to build tourism and make Burke County a destination for people.
But it could mean more than just a bigger tourism base.
Alan Wood, president/CEO of Burke Development Incorporated, said there are several ways the park and trail could help when trying to recruit business to the county.
Quality of life is always considered when companies make a decision to locate a business to an area, Wood said.
In addition, Wood said, there could be some unique opportunities for outdoor product manufacturing. The area would offer that type of manufacturing company a place where they could test and showcase their products in a natural environment, he said.
“We have the manufacturing base already but this gives u s another hook,” Wood said.
John Slaughter, a group superintendent with the National Park Service, was at the meeting to hear about the master plan. He said people looking for outdoor adventure are willing to pay a lot of money to stay somewhere but they want to be able to access trails for free.
Slaughter said the three fastest growing segments of tourism are trail, heritage and sports tourism. He called the area a grand slam to capture destination tourism. He mentioned Catawba Meadows Park, which is a baseball and softball complex in Morganton, and the area’s world class fishing as part of the tourism grand slam.