State leaders have a vision of visitors enjoying the Black River by building a park. But a lot of the river’s neighbors don’t want to see it in their backyards.
Representatives from The Nature Conservancy and the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation hosted an information session to discuss the proposed Black River State Park. Carol Tingley, deputy director of the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, led the discussion.
“I think in many ways the idea of what the park is going to be is a little larger in your mind than what’s really going to happen,” Tingley said referring to a belief that park areas will be built all along the the river. “It’s going to take years for us to build anything. It’s going to take a long time. What you’re going to see is a simple trail and a simple picnic area.”
She was joined by Hervey McIver of The Conservancy and John Fullwood, the division regional superintendent. Inside the Rowan Fire Department Community Center, several residents raised concerns about the idea during the Tuesday meeting. Some of them involved increase traffic, safety and not being informed about the bill to create the park.
If approved, House Bill 353 would authorize the creation of a state park on the Black River. The Conservancy owns thousands of acres along the river in Bladen, Sampson and Pender counties. The Black River is home to some of the oldest trees in the world. Its bald cypress trees are more than 1,600 years old.
During the meeting, one attendee brought up having one of the most important ecological systems in the United States and adding traffic and more boats to the areas is contradiction. Problems such as algae at White Lake was brought up as a example. But in defense, Tingley compared it to Jones Lake, which is completely owned by the state.
“We own the entire lake and the entire shoreline,” she said. “It’s beautiful. It’s undeveloped. The trees are big, we got a little beach on one side, with a little campground. And that’s the place people go.
“The rest of the lake is clean and beautiful, it’s not like that at White Lake because the entire surrounding is privately owned,” Tingley said.
After Tingley said that, others agreed to the idea of “where people come, commerce follows” along with trash and litter. Therefore, some want it to be stopped.
“The Nature Conservancy and the state park system share the mission of protecting some of the most important places in North Carolina,” she said referring to the historic heritage of the state.
“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,” she said. “That’s why we’re doing this. The facilities are to help people understand their own natural heritage.”
Although many groaned or shook their heads at the idea, a few in attendance were in favor of having the park. One of them included Dawn Williamson, a Clinton resident, who spent a lot of time exploring the river in kayak.
“I just like the thought of us being able to share this resource with people outside the county,” Williamson said. “Even people inside who may not realize what a really pristinely beautiful place this river is.”
Williamson said it’s also a part of a place she calls home in North Carolina
“I believe that every concern raised here tonight is valid, but I also believe there’s an opportunity for solutions,” she said to the audience. “That can mean that we all can share what all of us love so much.”
In Sampson County, one of the idea spots is near the Harrells section of the Black River.
“We would really like to provide picnicking, camping and trails and educational activities for the people of Sampson County,” Tingley said. “We don’t have a particular site picked out.”
Land will also have to be purchased from voluntary sellers.
“We’re not going to bother anybody that doesn’t want to sell or be part of it,” she said.
Other idea areas are at the bottom of the river or other areas in Bladen and Pender counties.
“But that has not been determined yet,” she said. “If the people down here really don’t want it, we may decide to focus on Sampson County first.”
While addressing the crowd, Tingley said people in Sampson County may want to have the park.
“Of course everyone never has the same opinion, but in general we have heard from the people in Sampson County because they don’t have a park,” she said. “They would like to have a park.”
The worry of visitors and kayak visitors needing help was debated as well. It was stated that local volunteer firefighters and residents will have to rescue kayakers stuck on the river who are unaware of their surroundings, if a park ranger is not available. Also it’s expected that the state will not pay for services from organizations such as the Rowan Fire Department. There was a consensus that it may create more emergency response situations, which has happened before with people traveling through the Black River.
Another concern was the maintenance of the river, which many said needs to be cleaned. Some residents in attendance said clogging brings about flooding, especially during storms and hurricanes. Attendees also brought up damage and loss to homes. Others questioned why the state could not help with dredging.
“The reason being is because the water can’t get out of here,” said Chester Brown, a Ivanhoe resident. “You come out here and you see a beautiful river. But you go down yonder, you can walk anywhere you want to. There’s no riverbed , it’s gone.”
Jackie Daniel feels the same way. He resides in Kelly, a town in Bladen County.
“The river got us all messed up down here,” Daniel said about some areas. “The trees stumped the river all up and it can’t flow.”
Supporters believe it’ll benefit Sampson and the Ivanhoe area when it comes to tourism and commerce. But opponents, such as Carlton Henry had different feelings about it. He operates Henry’s Landing, a boating facility.
“All I can see is this taking away from my livelihood,” Henry said referring to other boat ramps being built. “It’ll bring in more people, but these people will not be coming to me. They’ll be going to the state park. Plus, it’ll be more people in our neighborhood and we’re not equipped to handle it.”
Henry expressed that everyone likes things to be “quiet” in the Rowan neighborhood in Ivanhoe. Like some of the others in attendance, he was also upset about officials not having a public meeting before the bill was introduced.
“According to their policy, the first thing they’re supposed to do when they have this sort of thing is have a public meeting and get the people’s opinion,” he said. “They got the bill half passed the House already and this is the first meeting anybody had.”
He added that local residents forced The Conservancy and Parks Division to have the meeting.
“The state and The Conservancy didn’t want to have this meeting,” Henry said. “They try to sneak this stuff in here and get it passed.”
Now, a committee is being formed to handle concerns and issues related to the park. Additional information will be shared with the community. Officials are seeking input from the public about appropriate places.
“We heard from a lot of people tonight who have a lot of concerns about the stat park,” Tingley said. “I’m very hopeful that we can address their concerns.”
If the park becomes a reality, Tingley said they’ll do their best to become a good neighbor to the community. Many of the state’s parks are located in rural areas. Some of the places listed by Tingley included Gates, Stokes and Washington counties.
“Many of those people had the same concerns,” she said. “But once the park is there and they work with the ranger and enjoyed the facilities, they feel more comfortable with what the state park is doing.”
Debbie Crane, director of communications for The Conservancy, echoed the same sentiments.
“People fear what they don’t know and that’s why we have these education sessions,” Crane said. “It’s a good chance to hear and respond to the concerns.”
The official cost of the park is unknown and organizations involved will have to apply for grants and other funding pots.
“We’re have grant sources of money to come up with it,” Tingley said. “We’re not expecting an appropriation from the General Assembly.”
In addition to Black River, the bill is also proposing three other state parks: Bob’s Pocket State Natural Area in McDowell County, offering scenic beauty, 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.
Tingley expressed the importance of looking toward future growth in North Carolina.
“But 10, 20, 30 years from now, our population is going to double,’ she said. “Where are all those people going to have a park?”
“Not here,” some agreed in response.
Following approval from the Senate, the bill will be sent to Gov. Roy Cooper for final approval.