Josh Whitmore maps out part
of a proposed trail network.

WCU’s outdoor programs director looks to link to a county greenway

Josh Whitmore, director of outdoor programs for Western Carolina University, is developing a comprehensive plan for a community multiuse trail network, thanks to a grant of $14,440 from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. The WCU trail system will connect to the Jackson County Greenway’s Project, an initiative under development in the county parks and recreation department to acquire land for a linear park and greenway along the Tuckaseigee River. Together, the trail systems will provide a network consisting of a variety of trail surfaces to suit a host of activities on both WCU and Jackson County properties.

The idea for the trail network surfaced after the fragmentation of the existing gravel trail on campus due to new construction, which forced users onto public roads without sidewalks, coupled with the university’s acquisition of land as part of the Millennial Initiative, said Whitmore. “Some of the land too steep for development would be perfect for a multiuse trail facility to allow the campus community access to trails from campus,” he said.

The grant is funding the creation of a “master plan,” which will bring together interested groups of walkers, trail runners, mountain bikers and hikers to plan a network that will meet everyone’s needs, said Whitmore. “The plan will essentially establish a specific route for the trail, access points and features. It also will outline a further plan for construction,” he said. The first objective of the project is to complete a perimeter trail and develop access points with additional side loops and trails added later.

The network of trails will enable WCU to provide its on-campus population, the local community and visitors with easy access to healthful, recreational activities. The project’s strategy is to provide a trail system in a convenient location, making healthy recreation habits more accessible to the community. “Our trail project can easily be accessed from the greenway’s paved or crushed gravel surfaces through the pedestrian tunnel by WCU’s softball field,” said Whitmore. “This offers a contiguous trail network with the option of the more groomed greenway and the more primitive experience of a mountain trail.”

Emily Elders, project manager with the Jackson County Parks and Recreation Department, said the partnership with WCU is an exciting opportunity to improve the quality of life for the entire community. “For our county residents, students and visitors, greenways have the potential to provide increased health and wellness, create alternative transportation systems and, perhaps most importantly, preserve and protect the natural mountain landscapes that all of us enjoy,” Elders said. “We are fortunate to find partners as supportive and resourceful as Josh and the outdoor programs staff.”