Driving force: State gifts land to Bladen County for new course

By: Chrysta Carroll - Bladen Journal

WHITE LAKE — Drivers from all over North Carolina may be coming to Bladen County to train, thanks to a state donation of land.

“This idea was proposed some time back with Sgt. (Barry) Pait and myself,” explained Sgt. Gary Turlington, with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office. “We conducted driving training for deputies … at Curtis Brown Airfield. Although it’s a great facility, we understand that taxiways are linear and not realistic of what we would expect on a natural highway.”

Faced with the need for courses that would mimic real roads but not expose the general population to driving hazards, Turlington and Pait began looking for property that could be developed as a driver’s training course. Lying adjacent to the old prison site near White Lake that currently serves as a first responder training facility was a parcel of land that seemed ideal. The duo petitioned the state to donate the property to Bladen County and were notified recently of the grant of 109 acres.

If everything goes as planned, the site will be home to two 600 feet by 600 feet paved, level roads with a perimeter road that would allow first responders to practice maneuvering emergency vehicles in hazardous situations. Truck drivers could also utilize the site for training, as could teens or adults mandated by the courts to take additional driver training. Trainees would stay in barracks, and their tenure would depend on the course in which they were enrolled. Law enforcement in service might last one to three days, while basic law enforcement training might cover one week or more.

Currently, first responders in southeastern North Carolina train on airport taxiways or in parking lots. In the Tar Heel State, only one course exists similar to the one Turlington hopes to see in Bladen County.

“That track runs 51 weeks each year, and officers come from all over the U.S. for that facility,” Turlington explained.

Such a possibility would benefit not only the drivers but the Mother County as a whole.

“The economic benefit to the county cannot be overstated,” Turlington remarked. “The people staying here would spend money in restaurants and other stores, which would be a big boon to the economy.”

Turlington has seen firsthand the impact such a site could have on an economy, having witnessed it during his time in Raleigh.

Property in hand, the next step is securing funding to make the dream a reality. Though it is already cleared of trees, the property would have to be graded and leveled prior to installing a driving course.

“I think with proper support, we could get funding from a variety of sources, such as the county, state, and local industries,” Turlington conjectured.

He added, “This is a win-win, not only for the county, but for the region as well.”

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing ccarroll@bladenjournal.com.

Chrysta Carroll

Bladen Journal