West Marion and Old Fort Community Forums
Every day we are told that our world, our country, and our communities are more divided than ever before. We are well aware of the layered history of Southern Appalachia. The stories we tell ourselves about our rural communities and what we can accomplish can oftentimes be so limiting. We want to overturn and retire these narratives and embrace the full potential or of our small rural towns.
The Old Fort Community Forum grew out of the work of the West Marion Community Forum whose mission is to enhance the quality of life of our residents and overcome racial barriers by building bridges in McDowell.
When Lavita Logan became coordinator of the Old Fort Community Forum, her focus was on community engagement. She soon realized that something was missing in the forum – her own friends and neighbors from the black community that makes up over 30% of Old Fort’s population. Lavita formed People on the Move for Old Fort to address engagement within communities of color and build interest in challenges facing the town. Stephanie Swepson Twitty partnered with Lavita to empower fundraising and business support, bringing to Old Fort a successful model of affordable housing and small business incubation.
Can Heartbeak Connect to Old Fort?
At the same time the community forums were happening an idea was sparked across town at Camp Grier. When Jason McDougald looked at the Pisgah National Forest lands surrounding Camp, he saw opportunity. He called a meeting with Lisa Jennings and the Grandfather District with an idea – to connect the Blue Ridge Parkway to the town of Old Fort by extending the iconic Heartbreak Ridge trail.
But as Lisa and Jason talked, they realized that the opportunity extended beyond this one goal. When Jason built up volunteer and financial support for the local trails, they began dreaming big. Lisa called a meeting with trail users across the region with one simple question, “if we could build anything, what would we do?” Therein they created an initial 15 miles of trail drawn on a map.
A Trail Project Becomes a Community Project
When Jason decided to attend an Old Fort Community Forum he met Lavita and a new paradigm began to take shape. That meeting started as a discussion about how trails could transform a town. That same month, a diverse coalition of not-for-profit groups, individual citizens, and employers in Old Fort gathered for the first time to focus on equitable development. Facilitated by Stephanie and Lavita, the coalition embraced the trails project as a way to build a new future for Old Fort. Within this coalition, Lavita, Stephanie, Jason, and Lisa built trust and developed a strong partnership to move the project forward.
In this partnership the project changed from a user-based project to a whole community project and People on the Move awarded the G5 its first major trail planning grant. This grant gave the project momentum at a critical time and made the trails seem within reach for the community.
20 + Concepts maps, hundreds of commments, and some help from IMBA
In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, the Old Fort Trails Team held numerous public Zoom session to solicit input, and present tentative trail designs. Feedback was frequent and in-depth, and at each step the input modified the plan. You can see from one of the initial maps on the right how the project evolved from these early maps to its current form.
Over 300 formal comments were received that shaped the trail system and refined trail uses and experiences.
During this process the G5 was awarded a Trail Accelerator Grant from the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) to finalize planning and to refine trail alignments in the field.
The way things are and the way they should be.
The Old Fort Trails Project is born of the idea that change is possible when citizens come together to collaborate for meaningful and lasting change. We're not as divided as we are led to belive.
Our vision is to encourage investment from individuals and groups from multiple sectors in order to drive this initiative from the community outward. We take a community-driven perspective that includes everyone. Because we know that when we want to do something new, we have to do something different. When we dream big, we can make things happen, but only if we are willing to work together to do so. This means making space for people that have not historically been included in the decision-making process.
We are here to show that you can build something that is reflective of a community effort. We believe that you can create something that is so purpose-built that it changes how we think of trail projects and economic development projects moving forward. These conversations are happening in outdoor communities across the country and we hope the Old Fort Trail Project can live into this new vision of the outdoors as common ground for connection and community building.
So What's next?
The G5 Trail Collective was recently awarded $490,000 from Dogwood Health Trust to build the first 6 miles of trail and Phase I of a 500 space parking lot in the Old Fort Complex. Concurrently, Eagle Market Street Development Corporation was awarded $289,000 from Dogwood Health Trust to purchase a co-working and business incubator space in Old Fort. These first 6 miles will be in Zone E near what will be the Curtis Creek Trailhead.
These Zone E trails will be the most accessible trails of the system and will be enjoyed by users of all abilities. Construction will begin in January and the new trails will be open in July. We will post updates on our social media throughout the process so be sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook. Our goal is to build all 42 miles in 6 years.
Thanks to the efforts of Foothills Conservancy a new three mile section of the Fonta Flora State Trail (The Copper Ridge Section) is now open near Camp Grier. Copper Ridge makes an excellent addition to Kitsuma if you're riding into Old Fort.
For maps, trail logs, and other information about Phase I and this decision by the USFS check out our Google Drive Folder here.
Trail work is good for the community.
This Trail Project started by simply taking care of the existing trails like Kitsuma, Heartbreak Ridge, and others surrounding Old Fort. If you'd like to help bring more trails to the Grandfather District of Pisgah National Forest you can follow the links below to give your time and your money to the cause. You can also help by supporting our community partners and businesses who give their time and resources to our public lands. Finally, join us for an upcoming information session about Phase I of the Old Fort Trail Project on December 2nd at 5:30 and December 9th at 12:30.