State park officials are reaching out to the public through a series of open houses regarding the Black River and the possibility of a park.
North Carolina State Parks (NCSP) is hosting a open house from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20, in the cafeteria of Union Elementary School, 10400 Taylors Bridge Highway, Clinton. NCSP is conducting a study on the feasibility of having a state park on the Black River. The upcoming meeting is the third open house scheduled in September. Meetings were held in Bladen and Pender counties.
Katie Hall, public information officer for NCSP, said the upcoming meeting will give residents an opportunity to share their opinions or interests in a particular project they would like to see. North Carolina legislators approved House Bill 353 which authorizes a study of a state park on the river. The river is home to 1,600 year-old cypress trees, which are the oldest in the world.
Through the study, the parks department is researching if it’s desirable and practical to establish a park along the river. During the 2017 legislative session, NCSP was directed to lead a study.
“It could be a park, a trail or a natural area,” Hall said while listing some of the possibilities. “They can also talk about what kind of priorities they would have if we had a state park unit there and what kind of recreational opportunities they would want.”
“We don’t have a lot of state park properties in this areas of North Carolina,” she said. “One of our goals is to bring opportunities for recreation to all parts of the state for people to enjoy for free. Right now, the Black River have these incredible natural resources, but it’s difficult to access.”
Hall said many people believe that public already have access to the river, but that’s being done through private properties.
“Having a state park property there would allow people to access from public properties and be able to enjoy the natural resources there,” she said.
“The Black River has really important natural resources and our number goal and mission at (NCSP) is conservation,” she said. “By creating a state park property on this area, we can insure that it will not be developed in a way that would destroy the natural area.”
Hall mentioned private land owners and the uncertainty of who they’ll sell their property to in the future.
“If they work with State Parks now and sell land that they’re maybe looking to get rid of, they can help assure that those natural resources are preserved in perpetuity,” she said.
She also wants landowners to understand that North Carolina legislators would have to approve a state park unit on the river before it would move forward and that NCSP only works with willing landowners.
“That means that we do not take anybody’s property,” Hall said.
NCSP is working with land conservation organizations, willing to sell or donate areas. Hall said private owners are also asked if they want to sell.
A meeting regarding the Black River was hosted by The Nature Conservancy and the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation in the spring. At that gathering in Ivanhoe, it received heavy opposition and fears from nearby residents and business owners. Some of the concerns involved increased traffic and the safety of visitors.
Hall expressed that the upcoming will have a different format with a purpose of collecting information and opinions.
“That’s what this General Assembly have ordered us to do — to study whether it would work and how communities nearby would feel about it, ” Hall said. “We’re just in a study phase and this isn’t an actual part of park planning, like it would normally would be.”
In July, the Sampson County Board of Commissioners showed support for the project by approving a resolution showing support for N.C. House Bill 353 and the creation of the park.
The Nature Conservancy of North Carolina also showed support for project. Communications Director Debbie Crane hopes residents attend the meeting.
“The park will be a good thing for the community, so we’re hoping people show up, listen, learn and support a park on the Black River,” Crane said.