NC DOT Delays Bridge Expansion at Maverick Farms, But Keeps Pressure On
State highway department delays but reiterates plan to pave two farm
fields of Valle Crucis-based Maverick Farms to make way for bridges
VALLE CRUCIS, NC, Feb. 27, 2013 — In a Feb. 25 meeting at Maverick
Farms, NC Dept of Transportation (DOT) officials Mike Pettyjohn of the
North Wilkesboro office and Ivan Dishman of Boone announced that the
DOT had postponed a bridge project that would destroy parts of two
farm fields and compromise safety at the farm, a long-time leader in
the effort to create a just and accessible local food system in
Watauga County and nationally.
On Feb. 5, Maverick Farms director Hillary Wilson had been informed by
a private contractor working for the DOT that her family would receive
a financial offer within one month on the property the state intended
to claim—and face the option of either accepting the offer or seeing
the land taken under eminent domain. Pettyjohn and Dishman informed
the Wilsons that they would take their concerns into consideration and
modify their plan.
“We have a strong network here in the county of people we’ve worked
with on various food-justice and educational projects, and our
supporters rallied behind us, sending letters and calling the DOT and
signing a petition,” Wilson said. “We also have a strong national
network, and people from all over the country made their voice heard,
too.” Wilson said an online petition demanding that DOT not destroy
the farms fields had already received 1,500 signatures.
However, Wilson explained, the threat of the bridge project remains.
The farm lies in what a DOT report has called a “deep narrow valley” in
Valle Crucis, hemmed in by hillsides and streams. A one-lane,
unpaved, dead-end road cuts through the property, winding its way to a
ridgetop. Despite these tight conditions, the county has approved
development of 140 house-lots up the road from the farm over the past
15 years, concentrated in two major developments, Hunters Ridge and
Meadows at Valle Crucis. The developers have been leading a push to
pave the road for years, Wilson said, and the bridge project
represents the fruition of their efforts.
In their meeting at Maverick, Pettyjohn and Dishman claimed that the
bridges on Justus Road are “functionally obsolete and structurally
deficient” simply because they are one-lane bridges—and will need to
be replaced with dramatically larger bridges along with culverts that
bury almost 150 feet of trout streams. “We dispute this
assessment—the bridges can handle a reasonable amount of traffic as
long as they are properly maintained,” Wilson said.
She said that the family has offered the DOT right-of-way to build an
alternate road along a ridgetop on their property that doesn’t affect
farm fields. She added that a more elegant solution to the traffic
problem presented by intense development up the hill from the farm
would be to connect Justus Road with Seven Devils Road, which runs
perpendicular to Highway 105 in Foscoe and quite close to Justus Road
at its dead-end at the top of the mountain.
Pettyjohn and Dishman said they would consider that option, but at the
current time, the DOT only has funds budgeted for bridge projects.
Currently, the agency has $820,000 budgeted for the bridge project.
So despite the delay, “we are still very much under threat from the
DOT,” Wilson said. She added that the farm will continue seeking
support from local and national supporters. “We’re not backing down,”
Maverick‘s local supporters agree. At a meeting in February,
the Watauga County Commissioners announced they would send a letter to
DOT in unanimous support of the farm.
Over the years, Maverick Farms community partners have included
Appalachian State University (departments of sustainable
development, anthropology, sociology, history, biology, Appalachian
Studies, and fermentation sciences), Warren Wilson College, University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Appalachian District Health
Department, FARM Cafe, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, Grandfather
Home for Children, the Western Youth Network, Blue Mountain Center for
the Healing Arts, Two Rivers Charter School, Mountain Pathways
Montessori School, Karma Krew, Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural
Project, Leola Street Community Garden, Hunger and Health Coalition,
Hospitality House, Community Care Clinic, Watauga County Children’s
Council, Blue Ridge Conservancy, Valle Crucis Conference Center,
Watauga County Cooperative Extension, Watauga County 4-H, Camp
Lutherock, Duke University’s TIP summer program, as well as the local
Valle Crucis Elementary School.
The project has been profiled by Gourmet Magazine, The New York Times,
and The New York Times Magazine, as well as many local and regional
About Maverick Farms: Maverick Farms is a 501(c)3 educational
non-profit dedicated to promoting family farming as a community
resource and expanding access to healthy food by reconnecting local
food networks in the High Country of North Carolina. In 2009, Maverick
Farms launched High Country CSA (HCCSA), a multi-farm project that
links area farmers and consumers. HCCSA is committed to being
accessible to low-income community members—it accepts EBT benefits as
payment and works with the Appalachian District Health Department, the
Children’s Coalition, and the Community Care Clinic to make subsidized
shares available to low-income families. In 2012, HCCSA had 100
members. In 2012, Maverick launched a young farmer training project
called the Farmer Incubator and Grower program, in conjunction with
Appalachian State University’s Sustainable Development Department and
the Valle Crucis Conference Center. In addition, Maverick Farms grows
vegetables, meat, and eggs for sale at the Watauga County Farmers
Market and the Banner Elk Farmers Market. Learn more at
maverickfarms.com/ or http://www.facebook.com/maverickfarmnc