After two years of discussion, the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation has a plan for expanding the mainland portion of Hammocks Beach State Park that includes a campground and cabins, public gathering space and hiking trails, additional kayak launch space and updates at the visitor center to include the site’s history as a park for African Americans during segregation.
The plan was released Tuesday.
“This plan incorporates the complex needs of multiple stakeholders in a way that will serve the community and visitors well,” N.C. State Parks Director Mike Murphy said in a statement. “It offers a great balance for the future of the park: ample opportunities for recreation, new spaces to bring people together, and protection of important natural communities.”
Many of the amenities in the plan would be built on a 289-acre tract adjacent to the existing 30-acre park on the mainland, in Onslow County near Swansboro. The 289 acres were the subject of years of legal battles between the state, a teachers’ organization and heirs to the families that had connections to the land dating to the 1950s. The state bought the property after the 2014 settlement of the lawsuits.
Ideas on how to use the property came from staff; members of the park’s support group, Friends of Hammocks Beach and Bear Island; the N.C. African American Heritage Commission; conservation groups; Onslow County staff; local businesses; and nearby neighborhood associations.
When it opened in 1961, Hammocks Beach State Park was designed for use by African Americans, who were barred at the time from other public facilities. Following the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, all N.C. state parks were opened to all people.
The main feature of Hammocks Beach State Park is the three-mile-long Bear Island, an undeveloped barrier island accessible by kayak or by a ferry that docks near the park’s visitors center. The park also includes Huggins and Jones islands.
Hammocks Beach State Park had more than 195,000 visitors in 2016, the state says, and visitation is ahead of that pace for 2017.
The development will be done as funding becomes available. State officials say priorities are a pavilion and day use areas, a trail system, camping facilities and a fishing pier, while protecting the park’s plants, animals and flood plains.