RALEIGH — More than three-fourths of North Carolina residents favor a new state park in Bladen County, if a recently released study is indicative of the state’s interest.
But the nearly 25 percent opposed would be the most affected.
In 2017, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted HB353, which directed the N.C. Parks and Recreation division to study the feasibility and desirability of acquiring land and establishing a state park on the Black River. To ascertain interest, the Division hosted a series of four open houses in the fall, including two in Bladen County, and created an online survey for state residents.
Yea or nay?
Not surprisingly perhaps, local reaction differed from statewide opinion in the online survey. When considering only the three affected counties, 75 percent were for some type of park amenity, and 25 percent opposed to any form of development. Statewide, however, 91 percent of respondents want to see the Division do some work in the area, and 9 percent of interested people do not.
The open houses were a different story. At the first three gatherings, only 48 percent of attendees were in favor of some type of amenity, with 52 percent opposing any development at all.
Overall, 76 percent of of the attendees of the first three open houses and online survey respondents favor some type of park amenity.
“While there was some localized opposition to the development of a park unit, there was overall support for the development of a Black River park unit at the County (sic) and State-wide (sic) level,” says the study.
Not only were those surveyed given an opportunity to approve or disapprove development at all, but those in favor of it were also allowed to vote on which amenities they would like to see.
Overall, 57 percent of respondents in favor of development would like to see a “less developed” unit. Such a park might include hiking and paddle trails, primitive camping, canoeing and kayaking, bank fishing, picnic areas, and interpretive signs. The most popular options in this category were paddle trails (199 votes), picnic areas (178 votes) and canoeing and kayaking (191 votes). Least popular were bank fishing (42), paddle-in camping (45) and canoe fishing (44).
At least 43 percent of respondents opted for a “more developed” park unit, one that could see multi-use trails, campers or cabins, motor boating, group picnic shelters, a visitor center, a playground, or paddle rentals. The options appealing to most people were paddle rentals (178 votes), a visitor center (131 votes) and nature play (139 votes). Less popular were mountain biking (8), motor boating (6) and sports areas (12).
“The survey results showed a trend toward the public preferring passive accommodations such as a park unit similar to a state natural area, if a park unit were developed,” the study’s authors concluded.
Who said so?
The first three open houses were attended by 186 people. The fourth open house, which saw 46 people at the Rowan Fire Station in Ivanhoe, was held solely and specifically to answer questions raised at the first three meetings.
The online survey garnered 383 responses.
In addition, 73 comment forms available at the open houses were completed and returned to the Division. Of those, 69 respondents were in favor of a park, and four were against.
Rachel Giddens lives in the area, and she, along with a number of her neighbors, voiced disapproval at the first open house.
“We’ve got a lot of farmers in that area, and there are a lot of regulations about farming,” she said. “They’ve told us there will be 60,000 visitors a year to the park, and when you get that many people around farms, there are always problems.”
“They say it’s about conservation, but those cypress trees are so hard to access that you can’t reach them except by paddling upstream,” added Donna Sykes, who also lives in the area being studied. “It’s already beautiful, and adding 60,000 people is only going to ruin it.”
The Parks division responded by saying traffic to the area wouldn’t be as bad as expected.
“If we assume 50,000 visitors … (and) if there will be four locations on the Black River … this is 20 cars per hour added to the infrastructure leading to the park site,” the Division said in the report.
Bladen County residents also voiced concern about having their property seized by the state, but park officials responded by saying they could prevent such a thing legally.
“The state WILL NOT (emphasis theirs) acquire land from unwilling sellers to create a park on the Black River,” the report states, adding the following language would be requested to be included in any General Assembly bill: “The State may receive donations of appropriate land and may purchase other needed lands only from voluntary sellers for the Black River State Park.”
The report concludes by saying the study area “meets the criteria for addition to the State Parks System” and contains significant natural resources; a park would provide recreational and conservation possibilities; it has interesting educational species; and it has mixed support.
“The Division recommends that the residents of Sampson, Pender, and Bladen Counties (sic) continue to consider the benefits of a state park unit on the Black River to arrive at a community consensus on the proposal,” the study concludes.
Per H.B. 353, the feasibility report was submitted to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.