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How Did This Happen?

That's the question we get the most. How did you get 42 miles of NEW trail, plus parking, proposed in Pisgah National Forest near Old Fort? How did you get the first 6 miles funded? When is construction going to start? What's open now? If you've asked these questions, read on!

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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.

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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. 

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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 believe.


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 $2.5MM from the State of North Carolina to build the remaining 30 miles of trails that were approved by the USFS in the Old Fort complex. 


These next 30 miles will be a blend of intermediate and advanced hike, bike, and horse trails and will continue to expand the opportunities for recreational users in Old Fort. 

Once complete the trail system and other projects being spearheaded by Camp Grier and Eagle Market Street will make Old Fort a model of equitable economic development centered on outdoor recreation. 



Help us Build Trail

The G5 Trail Collective has opened 9 miles of new trails in Old Fort since 2022. Another 4 miles will be opened by the spring of 2024. We would not have been able to do be this successful without the help of thousands of donors and trail maintenance volunteers. 


The G5 Collective will add 30 miles of new singletrack to USFS public lands surrounding Old Fort over the next two years. As these trails become a reality your support will be needed more than ever! Please consider making a donation to help us build new trails and consider volunteering at one of our workday or work weekends!

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