Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Established in 1997 as a nonprofit, Mainspring Conservation Trust is all about conserving area streams,
historic farmlands, and ancient Native lands. Some of the properties are open to the public for walking and hiking. One of the organization’s projects is the Queen Branch parcel near Cowee. The 16-acre property is adjacent to Needmore Game Lands and has 1,600 feet of Little Tennessee River frontage. It is considered a floodplain parcel that has open meadows and wetlands at the confluence of Queen Branch and the Little Tennessee River. The property was gifted to Mainspring by Duke Power in June 2004.
Recently, Mainspring has begun construction of an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible trail at Queen Branch. The ADA is “a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.”
“It will be about .05 miles long,” said Mainspring’s Molly Phillips, about the Queen Branch ADA trail. “We received funding through a private donor who wanted to do something special, and a grant. Richard Clark from Clark and Company helped design and plan it, with the help of a board member who is a retired engineer, Ed Haight.”
“Only a small part of the property has been easily accessible,” explained Kelder Monar, Stewardship Manager and GIS Specialist at Mainspring. “The relatively level terrain and easy access to the river made the property a natural fit for an ADA trail. Connecting people with the natural resources in our area is a core part of Mainspring’s mission, and this trail gives us a chance to connect with a new user group.”
He added that the ADA trail is the result of years of effort.
“The planning and design of the ADA trail was funded by a 2017 grant from the Blue Ridge Natural Heritage Area, Inc. It was designed in 2018 by the late Jack Patton [a landscape architect]. It took Mainspring the next few years to secure the funding for the trail, but thanks to a grant from the Cannon Foundation, a contribution from an anonymous private donor, and commitment of Mainspring’s own resources, by fall of this year we were ready to begin.”
As Phillips shared, Mainspring contracted with Clark and Company to build the trail.
“Clark is an emeritus Mainspring board member who has done landscaping for Mainspring at our office and at the Cowee View Interpretive site,” said Monar. “His fine touch and history of working with Jack Patton made him the ideal fit for this project. On top of the contracted work, Clark has also donated many hours of his time and expertise to fine-tune the trail design on site.”
As with many Mainspring-related projects, volunteers contribute time and expertise. Haight designed a bridge to cross Queen Branch, which will be assembled during a volunteer workday. In addition, another team of volunteers cleared vegetation from the trail route before construction began.
“When all is complete, the trail will be around 1,800 feet long (about a third of a mile), and will feature three viewing areas along the river,” said Monar. “There will also be a connection to the adjacent tract of the Needmore Game Land, which could be used by the Wildlife Resources Commission for access by disabled hunters. The trail is a little different from other trails on Mainspring properties. The trail route was carefully laid out to have a gentle grade throughout. It is surfaced with an aggregate mix of gravel fines, which forms a firm compacted surface.”
Monar said that Queen Branch, which is easily visible on Highway 28 about 11 miles from Franklin, is one of Mainspring’s most visited.
“So far in 2021, 168 visitors have signed in at the visitor registration box. Given that only about one in six people sign in, we estimate that there have been more than 1,000 visitors this year. Mainspring bills the property as the ‘Gateway to the Needmore’ and maintains an informational kiosk and small picnic area, as well as areas of early successional habitat. People visit the property to hunt, fish and enjoy nature, as well as to access a neighboring outlying tract of the Needmore Game Land. When all is completed [the ADA trail], it should be a great little walk along the river that anyone can enjoy.”
The ADA trail will be completed by spring 2022.