A non-profit organization in Winston-Salem, which has a national focus on conservation, stream restoration and environmental education, will assist McDowell County in finding the necessary money to complete the next phase of the Catawba River greenway.

“We’re going to be working together for the next few years,” said Michael “Squeak” Smith, chairman of Resource Institute, to county officials.

For years, McDowell County officials have planned to continue the Joseph McDowell Historical Catawba Greenway. The city of Marion, with help from the McDowell Trails Association and state funds, completed the first two phases of the greenway. The county contributed $10,000 to the construction of the greenway loop around Round Hill and $45,000 towards second phase of the greenway. The third phase will be more of a county project but the city has pledged $40,000 towards this next section. The idea is to someday continue that trail westward.

For years, McDowell County officials have planned to continue the Joseph McDowell Historical Catawba Greenway. The city of Marion, with help from the McDowell Trails Association and state funds, completed the first two phases of the greenway. The third phase will be a county project and the idea is to someday continue that trail westward.

On Monday, the commissioners heard from Smith who talked about how his organization can help them find the necessary money for this ambitious effort.

Based in Winston-Salem, Resource Institute has its mission to enhance America’s natural resources by restoring streams, rivers and wetlands. This organization partners with other non-profits, local governments, private groups and civic-minded people to help bring natural resource-based projects to a successful completion.

“Resource Institute helps define the project and find funding sources,” reads a brochure. “We coordinate conceptual planning, design and engineering. We overview daily, on-the-ground construction management and manage grant reporting requirements. And most important, Resource Institute assures project completion.”

Resource Institute worked in McDowell before on the Muddy Creek restoration effort. It has done more than 80 projects during the last five years and has worked in five states.

“We do work nationally but most of our work is in North Carolina,” said Smith to the commissioners.

For McDowell County, Resource Institute will assist the greenway effort by finding and securing funding. The organization will do grant writing, research funding opportunities and assist McDowell with finding other sources of money for the next phase.

Under an agreement, McDowell County government will pay Resource Institute 10 percent of the total grant awarded to the county that the organization has helped secure. McDowell will pay Resource Institute within 30 days of the grant availability or when the project funds are awarded.

“Once we get the dollars for you, then you will pay for our service,” said Smith to the commissioners.

Resource Institute will assist the county with project closeout paperwork and will make a final billing to the county for the remainder once the project is completed.

Once the grant or other funding is awarded, then the county will be responsible for how it is used.

At Monday’s meeting, representatives of the McDowell Trails Association were there to state their support of this partnership. MTA President Frank Dean said his association is getting ready to work with the county on the first part of the third phase.

This first part will be the Catawba River Park on Old Greenlee Road, which is owned by the county but has been damaged due to flooding and vandalism. The plans for improving this park include adding horseshoe pits, a dog park, better picnic tables, an improved canoe launch and a fishing pier.

“We appreciate the community support on this project,” said Dean. “We fully support this operation.”

County officials said they are looking forward to working with Resource Institute and beginning the third phase. County Manager Ashley Wooten said the work on the Catawba River Park will begin in the late summer or early fall.

“We’re excited to reinvigorate that property through the construction of the greenway and the associated improvements,” said Wooten on Wednesday.

“We are committed to trails,” said Commission Chairman David Walker. “We need safe, quality places for people to exercise.”

Walker referred to how McDowell recently ranked among other North Carolina counties when it comes to health.

In an annual report about health, McDowell County ranked at 62nd out of 100 counties in North Carolina. This places McDowell below the average for the rest of the state when it comes to health and wellbeing of local residents, according to the report.

“That’s not bad but we can improve,” said Walker.