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County's New Interactive Map Offers Virtual Experience, Inspires Farm Visits

Buncombe County’s storied tradition of agriculture meets innovative technology in an exciting, new project. The Farm Heritage Trail is a scenic route highlighting the beauty and agriculture of the County’s rural northwest. Now, you can learn about those farms, view pictures, and follow along on a map via our new interactive Farm Heritage Trail website. The project is a collaboration between the County’s Soil & Water Conservation, Information Technology, and GIS departments.

While the tool gives you the ability to be immediately transported to pastoral settings, it’s also meant to get you involved with our farming community. “The map takes people along the Farm Heritage Trail including visuals of the mountain and pastoral views, animals, and farm landscapes along the trail. It also includes narratives of the farms and community history,” explains County Soil Conservationist Ariel Zijp. “The primary purpose is to continually enhance the overall experience of driving the trail and to entice citizens and tourists to get out on the road, drive the trail, and experience Buncombe’s farms… We want you to make the connection with the importance of supporting farms and the protection of farmland.”

The interactive map lists farm stops and conserved farms. The farm stops have website and social media links so you can plan a visit. However, the conserved farms are working lands that have been protected under a conservation easement in perpetuity, they do not allow visitors but are still enjoyable aesthetically from the trail.

Thanks to the County’s IT and GIS departments, we are able to partner new tech trends with our portfolio of historical farming lands. “A few years ago, I assisted making a very simple web map showing the locations of the farms on the trail,” recalls County IT Specialist James Webb. During a recent GIS conference showcasing the newest features, he had an epiphany. “I was inspired to revisit this project and see if I could add some value and at the same time expand my knowledge of what could be done using ArcGIS online Story Maps in real life applications.” The result is our interactive Farm Heritage Trail website.

A great way to encourage younger generations to connect with agritourism is with the use of technology. “Our main focus is to protect natural resources, prime agricultural soils, promote water quality, and to protect farmland; therefore, we need to find a way to have people make an emotional connection with these types of places,” notes Zijp. “Once they have an emotional tie, they are more likely to understand the importance of protecting these working landscapes. We look at technology as a way to sell our story to large groups and to spread information in a way that was never possible before."