Construction was set to start Monday on an environmentally friendly, 146-acre nature preserve in the northeastern corner of the city.
Horseshoe Farm Park has been a popular destination for birdwatchers and other nature lovers since the city bought the property in 1994. But for the past 20 years, it’s been little more than open fields at the end of a gravel driveway.
When the gates reopen next March, the park will boast a one-mile loop trail through the meadow with educational signs. A new picnic shelter will accommodate up to 100 people for nature programs and private events. Walkers and cyclists will have a paved parking lot and trail accessing the 27-mile Neuse River Greenway. And all visitors will have access to Raleigh’s first off-the-grid restroom facility, which will use composting technology.
The $1.7 million project received most of its funding from a bond referendum 14 years ago.
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City Councilman John Odom, who represents northeast Raleigh, said the nature experience will draw visitors from throughout the city.
“I would say 30 to 35 percent of the people who come to this will come from a larger area,” he said.
Odom said he pushed the council to buy the old farm in a horseshoe-shaped river bend, but he wishes the park plan included more amenities. Initial plans for the site included ballfields, basketball courts, a gymnasium and a community center – facilities Odom says are needed as the rapidly growing corner of Raleigh attracts young families.
“I think we missed a great opportunity,” he said, adding that “we’ve still got a great park.”
The debate over Horseshoe Farm’s fate ran for years, with some neighborhood leaders and environmentalists campaigning to keep the site natural and undeveloped. They voiced concerns about protecting wildlife and the site’s environmentally sensitive features.
In 2008, the City Council approved a stripped-down plan focused on passive recreation such as hiking and birding. The planned community center has been moved to a site five miles away on Durant Road. Abbotts Creek Park and Community Center is under construction and is scheduled to open in late 2015.
At Horseshoe Farm Park, a second phase of improvements has been planned but isn’t yet funded. Those plans include a 7,000-square-foot arts and education center, an outdoor amphitheater, more nature trails and a butterfly meadow.
Before that happens, the city will use a $250,000 grant to renovate an old farmhouse on the property late next year.
“We’re still planning what it will be used for,” parks planner Lisa Potts said. Options include an art gallery and multipurpose room.
With plenty of open space available, Odom said he’d like to reconsider more intensive recreation facilities.
“If it were my druthers, I would want to revisit it,” he said.