Pinnacle Park, a favorite recreational haunt in Sylva that was once home to the town’s watershed, will benefit from a county effort aimed at mapping and restoring its trail system.
Last Thursday Sylva’s town board signed off on a cooperative deal that would enlist Jackson County’s recreation staff and greenway volunteers to create an inventory of the park’s trail system, including GPS mapping and recommendations for restoration efforts.
Sylva commissioner Sarah Graham, who represents the town on the Jackson County Greenways Project commission, said the new agreement is an unexpected boon that would speed up the pace of developing the parks’ trail system.
“They’re offering a lot of help. I think we’ll get a ton of benefit out of this. It just goes hand in hand with what we’ve been talking about in becoming a walkable town,” Graham said.
The county and town had been working closely on a greenway master plan.
The 1,100-acre Pinnacle Park is within a 10-minute drive for Sylva residents and is a popular destination for hiking, biking and trail riding. The tract once served as the town’s source of drinking water. The town placed it in a conservation easement in 2007 with the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee in exchange for a $3.5 million grant from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund.
Pinnacle Park, while a favorite among locals in the know, is home to but a few rough trails. Until recently it lacked trail markers and decent parking, improvements which the town has already tackled over the past year with the help of volunteers with the nonprofit Pinnacle Park Foundation.
The town has been making minor improvements from trail signs to foot bridges in a piecemeal fashion by using interest money accrued from the environmental trust fund grant. The new arrangement will add county resources to the mix and speed up the timetable for a finished trail system.
“Slowly over the years we’ve budgeted money out of the interest to improve the park,” Graham said. “It’s just an amazing opportunity to speed up the timeframe for the park’s improvements.”
Emily Elders, recreation project manager for Jackson County, said Pinnacle Park was identified as a priority in the Jackson County Greenways Project master plan adopted in August.
“Pinnacle is one of those places that’s close in so it’s accessible and it was something we felt was really important so we made it a priority in the master plan,” Elder said.
Fixing up trails
The existing trail system, which has developed more or less spontaneously needs significant work, according to Tim Johnson, regional trail representative for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Johnson provided a report on the current state of the trails, which included a to-do list. Elders said a hands-on action plan is exactly what her volunteer base needs.
“He really recommended that we look at adding some of these things because trail-building is its own profession, and we wanted to lend them the resources we have,” Elders said.
Under the agreement, Elders and the county’s recreation facilities manager, Bryan Cagle, will work in consultation with Johnson to GPS map the existing trail system, identify areas in need of repair or cleanup, and make recommendations for new trails and trail closures. Some of the existing trails have as much as 70 percent slope, which isn’t ideal in terms of safety or erosion control.
The board’s vote also included the stipulation that the county include the Pinnacle Park Foundation in its planning efforts. Elders said the Pinnacle Park Foundation board has already signed off on the mapping of the park and will be closely involved moving forward.
For Elders, the cooperative agreement is a way to mobilize a volunteer-base that has had little to do as the Greenway Project works to secure easements for plots along the Tuckaseegee River .
“It’s actually a really good opportunity for us as a greenway group because we have this master plan with all of these long-term projects and the process can start to feel drawn out,” said Elders. “It really helps to have a project under way in an existing space to get our volunteers involved again and keep the public momentum going.”
Elders started as a full-time project coordinator for the county in September 2008, and since then, she has been able to work directly with the municipalities involved in developing the greenway system.
She said the collaboration between the Town of Sylva and the county on Pinnacle Park has been an example for how the greenway project can come to fruition.
“It’s been really excellent. Both boards have been really involved in the planning process,” Elders said. “We’re trying to work with each of the town boards to implement the master plan and get the projects in place.”
According to the plan Elders presented to Sylva’s board, the Jackson County Greenway Project will present a vetted plan to the town for the Pinnacle Park trail system no later than March 1, 2010.
How to get there
Make a left on Fisher Creek Road a short distance out of town. The road gets rough and steep, but keep going until it dead-ends at the trail head.