clintonnc.com

Waterways group seeks N.C. 24 access ramp

Chris Berendt Staff Writer

October 16, 2013

The Friends of Sampson County Waterways is trying to rally support for the inclusion of a wildlife access ramp as part of the N.C. 24 widening project, an addition that would offer an environmental excursion that could help promote tourism to Sampson.


The effort already has the backing of the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce and state Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson.The Sampson County Board of Commissioners is expected to consider the matter, and a possible resolution of support to the N.C. Department of Transportation, in the coming weeks.


DOT district engineer Lin Reynolds said he is currently researching the issue, and possible inclusion of an access ramp to the Great Coharie Creek just outside of Clinton, off N.C. 24, following a request by Friends of Sampson County Waterways (FSCW). A letter, signed by FSCW founder and first president Ralph Hamilton, current FSCW president Tim Tromp and vice president Cebron Fussell, explained the need — and benefits — of having such a ramp.


“It has come to our attention that the N.C. DOT would consider including a wildlife access ramp as part of the widening project on N.C. 24. This would be of great importance not only to the Friends of Sampson County Waterways, but to all citizens of the county and, indeed, could help promote tourism,” the letter stated. “Sampson County has a 60-mile stretch of water from the towns of Newton Grove to Ivanhoe, but there is only one boat ramp, which is located four miles from our southern county border.”


The more interest expressed in having the ramp within the center of the county, the more likely the prospect of seeing it become part of the N.C. DOT project, Waterways officials said.


FSCW is a non-profit organization dedicated to trying to preserve and maintain approximately 300 miles of traditional boating right of way in the waterways of Sampson, including the Black River, South River, Six Runs Creek, Great Coharie Creek and Little Coharie Creek, as well as its tributaries, for the benefit of paddlers, fishermen, hunters and others.


Having a central access to those waterways is much desired, and an endeavor Jackson supports.


The senator said constructing a public boat ramp and waterway access point on Great Coharie Creek, near its juncture with N.C. 24 outside of Clinton, could pay dividends for Sampson.


“After speaking with Mr. Ralph Hamilton of Friends of Sampson County Waterways, I am certain that this project will enhance the recreational and educational opportunities available to Sampson County residents,” Jackson stated. “Currently, those who use the creek, for kayaking, boating, fishing or other outdoor activities must drive to Ivanhoe to the nearest public boat ramp. The community would benefit from having another access point, closer to the county’s main population hub.”


The proposed boat ramp would also give Sampson Community College students in environmental science-related courses easy access to the creek for academic purposes, Jackson stated.


“It also bears mentioning that the upcoming construction on Highway 24 will provide an excellent opportunity to construct this new facility,” the senator said.


Any cost for construction and maintenance would not be the responsibility of Sampson County as the ramp would be state-owned, and thus shouldered by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the FSCW officials stated. However, Sampson County will benefit greatly from the additional revenue brought in from those using the waterways, proponents said.


The Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce, in a missive to the Board of Commissioners signed by executive director Janna Bass, also lent its support to the proposed project.


“I am sure many of you have had the opportunity to explore a portion of the over 300 miles of navigable waterways within Sampson County and understand the economic impact and future opportunity these waterways hold for our community,” Bass stated. “Although, an exact number of users are difficult to determine, it is estimated that thousands come to Sampson County each year to travel these waterways. While these visitors are here for the waterways, the residual effects within Sampson County are numerous in purchasing gas, supplies, food and more.”


Vickie Crane, director of the Sampson County Convention and Visitors Bureau, echoed those sentiments and preached the natural resources Sampson offers. She said “paddle trails” for those canoeing and kayaking provide a fun way for friends and families to enjoy the outdoors, while also serving as an economic driver for local businesses and a boost to the quality of life.


“Paddling sports are a growing tourism niche and definitely a viable form of economic development,” Crane said. “Sampson County has the natural resources to benefit economically from this popular activity and I hope the community will work together to further support and develop paddle trails.”


Bass requested the support of the Board of Commissioners in making the county request to DOT and the N.C. Wildlife Association. With the impending N.C. 24 widening project and the wetland mitigation currently taking place, now is the “opportune time” to make the request, Bass said.


“Knowing the economic impact and potential opportunity of these waterways, it is recognized that if Sampson County is able to gain another wildlife access ramp in Sampson County, just outside Clinton, in addition to the current wildlife access ramp in Ivanhoe, it could bring more tourists to use our waterways, impacting our local businesses in a positive way,” the Chamber executive director said.


Hamilton and others said the same.


“We feel that with the full support of our Sampson County Board of Commissioners, this can become a reality.”


During a recent meeting, the board simply accepted the request as information, and Reynolds said he would look into it and further report back to the board, as soon as next month.


“I’m doing an investigation on that, doing some research to see if it can be done,” said Reynolds. “I should have something in 30 to 60 days when I meet with all the parties involved. I’ll report back to the commissioners then. There are a lot of concerns out there with the wetlands and the volume of traffic, so I don’t know how it will pan out.”


Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at cberendt@civitasmedia.com.