The Sampson County Board of Commissioners has thrown its support behind N.C. House Bill 353 and the creation of Black River State Park, so people can “enjoy this natural resource, promote tourism and economic growth,” even while some local residents have raised concerns about the legislation.
House Bill 353 authorizes the creation of a state park on the Black River, home to some of the oldest trees in the world. Its bald cypress trees are more than 1,600 years old.
HB 353 was ratified in the 2017 legislation session, directing the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to study the feasibility and desirability of the establishment of a state park on the Black River in Sampson County and an assessment of actions the state could take to improve the navigability of the river.
Following approval from the Senate on June 28, the bill was placed on the House’s calendar for the next day, June 29, at which point it was passed and presented to Gov. Roy Cooper for final approval. The county board unanimously approved a consent agenda this month that included a resolution in support of the creation of Black River State Park.
A strategic plan commissioned by the Sampson County Convention and Visitors Bureau identifies South River, Black River, the Coharie and Six Runs Creeks as significant waterway assets for the county, but notes that there were few ways for visitors to engage with the waterways given limited public access, put‐ins and options for use by non‐boaters, county officials said in support of the bill.
“This strategic plan encourages the development of partnerships that could overcome the challenges that prohibit leveraging the full potential of the waterways as visitor and resident recreational opportunities and could ensure the preservation of these valuable natural resources for years to come,” the resolution stated.
Representatives from The Nature Conservancy and the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation hosted an information session in Ivanhoe in May to discuss the proposed Black River State Park. Carol Tingley, deputy director of the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, led the discussion.
“It’s going to take years for us to build anything,” Tingley stated at the time. “What you’re going to see is a simple trail and a simple picnic area.”
Supporters pointed to perceived benefits in tourism and commerce for southern Sampson County, while opponents — many of them in attendance at the May meeting — have expressed how increased traffic and needed maintenance of the river would adversely impact the environment. They were also upset about officials not having a public meeting before the bill was introduced.
The park will be situated on the banks of the river, similar to the Lumber River State Park, according to the Conservancy. The goal is to provide boating access, which will provide a view of the historic trees.
According to the bill, the state may receive donations of appropriate land and may purchase other needed areas for the parks with existing funds in the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, the federal Land and Water Trust Fund and other sources.
During the May meeting, attendees mentioned North Carolina having one of the most important ecological systems in the United States and adding traffic and more boats to the areas would be a contradiction, they said.
“A big part of the reason we want to do this is really to help the Nature Conservancy protect this area forever, for future generations and people who are not even born yet who want to see these beautiful old trees and see what North Carolina is really about,” Tingley replied. “That’s why we’re doing this. The facilities are to help people understand their own natural heritage.”
In addition to Black River, the bill includes the development of three other state parks: Bob’s Pocket State Natural Area in McDowell County, offering outdoor recreation; Warwick Mill Bay in Robeson County, a breeding habitat for different species of waterbirds; and Salmon Creek State Natural Area in Bertie County, which covers the Native American occupation site containing prehistoric and historic archaeological sites, include a Native American occupation site.
In the recently-adopted resolution, the Board of Commissioners said it recognizes how “dramatically scenic” the Black River is, along with the county’s other waterways. The Black River is a “valuable natural resource that should be preserved for future generation.”
“(The board) supports the study commissioned by House Bill 353 and the ultimate creation of a state park along the Black River, which would provide opportunities for our residents and visitors to enjoy this natural resource, promote tourism and economic growth in the county and encourage partnership efforts to maintain and preserve the waterway resources,” the resolution states.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.