Remember the $2 billion bond issue that N.C. voters approved last March? It included $75 million to develop and expand state parks.
As promised, the money will go for new visitor centers and community centers, bigger or improved campgrounds and additional land for 45 parks and natural areas.
The park that gets the biggest chunk, $5.7 million, is the newest, Carvers Creek State Park north of Fayetteville. It will pay for renovations and new facilities.
But as Carvers Creek stands to receive the money, it’s working to recover from back-to-back storms.
Flooding from torrential rains in late September breached an earthen dam, draining three-fourths of a 100-acre, cypress-rimmed millpond. “We lost fishing and scenic values,” Superintendent Jane Conolly said.
Eight days later, Hurricane Matthew struck. “Hundreds of trees were blown down, two culverts were washed out,” Conolly said. The 3-year-old park reopened Nov. 28 after cleaning up the damage.
To begin repairs, the park received $300,000 in November from the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, unrelated to the bond issue. It hasn’t been determined whether the 20-foot high, 200-foot-wide dam can be repaired or must be rebuilt.
(The fund at the same time also provided $800,000 to expand New River State Park by purchasing a 32-acre former private campground and contributed $1.7 million to help add 114 acres to Lake James State Park near Marion.)
The centerpiece of the 4,347-acre Carvers Creek park is the 1939 winter-retreat home of banker James Stillman Rockefeller, member of the prominent Rockefeller family. Rockefeller willed his Long Valley Farm and house to The Nature Conservancy when he died at age 102 in 2004. Six years later, the conservancy, after planting long-leaf pines and native grasses on several hundred acres of former cotton, tobacco and corn fields, donated the farm to the park system.
Conolly said bond money will renovate the 6,200-square-foot, colonial revival-style home and convert it into a visitor center and park offices. In addition, the park entrance road will be extended a half-mile to an area near the home.
Other improvements call for constructing an auto bridge to cross a creek to provide access to an area that will be used for picnics; restoring a 19th century wooden pavilion, once a sawmill; and building a canoe-rental facility on the millpond. Conolly said design work will begin in 2017. “We have a big job ahead of us,” she said.
Beside native longleaf pines, the park holds endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers, fox squirrels and carnivorous pitcher plants. A second area, the 2,927-acre Sandhills section, is disconnected from Long Valley Farm by about 7 miles and not open to the public.
Statewide, parks spokesman Charlie Peek said design work has begun and groundbreaking for the first round of projects will take place in early 2018. Among them are $3 million for Jordan Lake State Recreation Area to upgrade electrical RV hookups at about 280 campsites and four bathhouses and $750,000 to increase parking at Crowders Mountain State Park west of Charlotte.
Bond money will pay for visitor centers at Lake James, Pilot Mountain State Park near Winston-Salem and Pettigrew State Park near Creswell. North of Charlotte, Lake Norman State Park will get $2.3 million for campground improvements.
Earmarked for 10 parks and natural areas is $14 million to acquire new land, including $4.5 million for the 1,150-mile-long Mountains-to-Sea Trail. The amount designated for the trail is second to Carvers Creek’s.
Here are improvements scheduled for other Raleigh-area parks:
▪ Eno River State Park near Durham, $2.83 million for a 6,500-square-foot visitor center.
▪ Falls Lake State Recreation Area, $789,750 for a 3,000-square-foot community building.
▪ William B. Umstead State Park, $1.75 million for a 5,000-square-foot community/education building in the Reedy Creek section.
Peek said park officials don’t expect to complete all projects until 2021.
The $2 billion bond issue, promoted as Connect NC, passed 66-34 percent. The biggest share of money, 66 percent, will pay for new buildings at the state’s public universities and community colleges. The rest will go for water and sewer projects, local parks, the National Guard, the North Carolina Zoo, agriculture and state parks and natural areas.