Students tackle designs for sustainable state park building

It should be sustainable yet “traditional and warm,” not coldly modern. It should reflect the landscape. It should feel like a “base camp”. Maybe it should have an aquarium or an indoor beehive.

Forsyth Technical Community College student explains features of his winning design.

Forsyth Technical Community College student explains features of his winning design.

These are a few visions from the next generation of architects and designers for state park buildings. The U.S. Green Building Council North Carolina Chapter just completed a competition aimed at the best students. Their assignment: attempt to design a visitor center for Lake James State Park that incorporates the best green building practices.

Ten teams from seven universities put their designs in front of distinguished judges in North Carolina, and the awards were presented Saturday at William B. Umstead State Park. Emily Scofield, the chapter’s executive director, told the students, “You’re generation green. You are the ones that are going to be designing, building and using the spaces of the future, and we want them to be better for all of us and better for the environment.”

Visitors examine designs from seven university teams for a state park visitor center.

Visitors examine designs from seven university teams for a state park visitor center.

Nearly 10 years ago, the state parks system began building its visitor centers and other large buildings to standards of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. To date, seven facilities have earned LEED certification (five at the gold level). On the ground, that means designing for a light footprint on the state park landscape. For instance, the visitor centers have solar and geothermal energy systems, natural lighting and water-saving fixtures. The designs often aim for locally supplied materials, natural landscaping and occasionally amenities for bicyclists for special parking or low-emission vehicles. The entire concept is that state parks should set the bar for protecting the environment when building facilities.

The students get that. Many of their designs took the concepts even further where possible with some startling designs and bold ideas. And in presenting them to judges, students noted how they were inspired by the landscape of Lake James State Park. The winner was a team from Forsyth Technical Community College and East Carolina University was first runner-up.

Gov. McCrory and park friends dedicate Lake Norman State Park visitor center

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGov. Pat McCrory, the family of the late Park Superintendent Casey Rhinehart and more than 100 park supporters and officials together dedicated a new visitor center and district office Thursday at Lake Norman State Park.

The completion of the 11,000-square-foot facility and adjacent amenities, under the guidance of Rhinehart and Ranger Jarid Church, is a benchmark in the park’s history and an example of sustainable development, designed to national green building standards. The project represents an investment of $4.3 million from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.

Gov. Pat McCory, members of the Rhinehart family and David Pearson, left, of Friends of State Parks officially open the visitor center.

Gov. Pat McCory, members of the Rhinehart family and David Pearson, left, of Friends of State Parks officially open the visitor center.

Before cutting a ribbon with Rhinehart’s family to open the facility, Gov. McCrory said it also represents an improvement in infrastructure such as those he seeks in a pair of proposed bond referendums now before the General Assembly. Investment in state parks – proposed at $67 million within the total $2.85 billion – are an important part of the bond package, he said.

“These parks give access for all citizens to these beautiful places,” McCrory said. “The parks need to expand and be exposed to all income levels so that all can enjoy the best of North Carolina.”

The role of state parks as contributors to quality of life and to local economies was a common theme for the event’s speakers, including Jeff Archer, a parks advisory committee member and owner of a local bike shop, David Pearson, executive director of Friends of State Parks, and W.E. “Bill” Russell, president of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.

Russell commented, “What do parks and recreation have to do with business? I’d say ‘everything.’ If it’s not going to be a great place to live, it’s not going to be a great place to work.”

Mike Murphy, state parks director, said the visitor center as a place to educate is a tribute to Rhinehart, who died Feb. 25 of cancer after serving as superintendent at the park for 11 years. “He wanted to have a place to serve visitors and to teach about stewardship,” Murphy said.

Gov. McCrory presents a plaque honoring Supt. Casey Rhinehart's service to daughter Kinsey Rhinehart, wife Jill Rhinehart and son Nick Rhinehart.

Gov. McCrory presents a plaque honoring Supt. Casey Rhinehart’s service to daughter Kinsey Rhinehart, wife Jill Rhinehart and son Nick Rhinehart.

Gov. McCrory presented a plaque honoring Rhinehart’s service to his wife Jill, children Kinsey and Nick and parents Bill and Scarlett Rhinehart, and then invited them to help him officially open the facility.

Similar to visitor centers built at 22 state parks and state recreation areas since 1994, the Lake Norman facility offers an architectural design styled to its lakeside setting, classrooms and interior and exterior exhibits. A paved exhibits trail leading to lake viewing platforms and a renovated picnic shelter and picnic grounds are fully accessible.

The visitor center is built to gold-level standards of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program of the U.S. Green Building Council. A few of the features that will contribute to certification include active and passive solar energy systems, geothermal HVAC systems, natural lighting, water-saving fixtures and natural landscaping. The structure was designed by Architectural Design Studio PA of Asheville, and the general contractor was Southern Constructors Inc. of Mooresville.

State parks and their visitors appreciate administrative professionals

Over the last two months, the people you’ll often meet first at North Carolina’s state parks – office assistants and processing assistants – have undergone training to increase efficiency and provide an even better experience for millions of visitors.

These men and women have been expanding their professional knowledge during the slower winter months in preparation for the busier summer season. And now that the threat of ice and snow is past, they are putting this new knowledge to good use.

Administrative professionals in winter training at Haw River State Park.

Administrative professionals in winter training at Haw River State Park.

Acting not only as receptionists, cashiers, and record keepers, the state parks system’s administrative professionals also perform duties as reservation agents, accounting clerks, and hiring managers, keeping office functions running smoothly in each park. Such skills are gleaned through training sessions held by state parks reservation system trainers, instructors from the Office of State Personnel, and the parks system’s own Administrative Professional Council. In addition, the administrative professionals from state parks near and far learn from colleagues while at the training, a less formal but no less effective training method.

So today, Administrative Professionals Day, rest assured that the owner of that friendly voice on your favorite park’s phone line or that smiling face greeting you in the visitor center has been gearing up behind the scenes for what will certainly be a busy summer of fun for North Carolina’s outdoor enthusiasts. Be sure to ask them what they like best about helping to make your visit to our naturally wonderful North Carolina state parks an enjoyable one.

Weather offers extra challenge for Mount Jefferson skateboarders

moje skateboard(Submitted by Supt. Joe Shimel of New River State Park)

What’s a little fog and constant rain compared to the chance to race a skateboard down Mount Jefferson?

The first-ever, two-day event this weekend had 65 riders racing down the mountain at 50-plus miles an hour on long boards, specialized skateboards for downhill racing. Ashe County Rescue was on scene, but due to the skill of the professional riders, the only medical assistance involved a Band Aid for a nine-year-old spectator.

Saturday involved practice runs throughout the day as riders familiarized themselves with the course. Over 200 spectators came to watch in beautiful spring weather. Race day was a completely different picture. Constant rain and heavy fog had riders donning any rain gear they could find, installing specialized wheels to run in the water, and some removing their visors to they could see the course. Another 150 spectators battled the elements as well as the riders from across the country and Canada.

Downhill reigning world champion Kevin Reimer of British Columbia took first place. Ed Keifer and Louis Pilloni were second and third respectively, and Madison Crum was North Carolina’s top rider finishing seventh.

Local race organizers Bailey Winecoff, Madison Crum and the Human Powered Transportation Club of Appalachian State University brought in the Ian Tilmann Foundation and Ohio Down Hill Skate to coordinate the event. Their hard work and organization made it a successful event. Look for the 2nd Annual North Carolina Down Hill at Mount Jefferson State Natural Area in 2016.

Rainbow trout introduced at Hanging Rock State Park lake

Hanging Rock State Park decided its new fishing pier needed a little something extra…new fish. Rainbow trout are being introduced today in the 12-acre lake in a joint effort of the state parks system and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

The stocking program provides a unique opportunity for recreational trout fishing outside of traditional mountain trout waters and is particularly accessible to children, older anglers and mobility-impaired individuals. The wildlife agency will stock the lake with 2,400 catchable-sized rainbow trout in April and October of each year. The stocking effort complements a new, accessible pier built in 2013.

An new, accessible pier was finished in late 2013 on the 12-acre lake.

An new, accessible pier was finished in late 2013 on the 12-acre lake.

Although a North Carolina fishing license is required for anglers 16 years old and over at the lake, a separate trout fishing license will not be required. Anglers may harvest seven trout per day with no size limit, and there are no restrictions on bait or type of hooks used. Also, there is no closed season associated with this fishery, so anglers can fish the lake year round.

“For less mobile anglers, fishing for trout in lakes is much simpler than fishing in streams,” said Kin Hodges, fisheries biologist for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “The opportunity to fish in a lake, combined with a handicapped-accessible fishing pier, makes Hanging Rock Lake an ideal location for handicapped anglers to fish for trout. These same qualities also make it the perfect place to introduce small children to trout fishing.”

Hodges said Hanging Rock’s lake becomes the easternmost trout fishery in the state, making it attractive to anglers from the piedmont who might not have the time or means to visit mountain streams for trout fishing.

The lake also supports populations of largemouth bass, bluegill and redear sunfish and the state park offers boat rentals in warm-weather months.

Hammocks Beach State Park to expand with premier waterfront property

The North Carolina state parks system will add a premier property of 289 acres on the mainland at Hammocks Beach State Park in Onslow County, following approval of the acquisition Tuesday by the Council of State, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

Formal closing on state acquisition of 199 acres of the property is expected near the end of April. Concurrently, The Conservation Fund will close on an adjacent 90 acres that will also eventually be added to the state park. Both tracts are being acquired from the heirs of John Hurst, son of a onetime slave who was caretaker of game lands owned by Dr. William Sharpe in the early 1900s.

Visitor center on Queen's Creek at Hammocks Beach State Park.

The Hammocks Beach State Park visitor center on the mainland facing Queen’s Creek.

The state’s portion of the property will be purchased for $6.96 million, provided through the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and two-thirds bonds approved by the N.C. General Assembly in 2014. The Conservation Fund, through its North Carolina chapter, has committed $3.1 million for the remainder of the property. The Conservation Fund’s portion will be acquired by the state over the next three years. The Division of Parks and Recreation will manage both properties. The purchase price was set through a settlement agreement in June 2014.

The history of Hammocks Beach State Park reaches back to the friendship of Dr. Sharpe, an avid outdoorsman and physician from New York, and John Hurst and his wife Gertrude, who eventually became caretakers of Sharpe’s hunting and fishing retreat. At the urging of the Hurst couple, Sharpe agreed to leave the property to the N.C. Teachers Association for use by its members. Bear Island and part of the mainland property was later authorized as the state park.

“Adding this property to Hammocks Beach State Park will greatly advance its mission of conservation, recreation and environmental education in the spirit of Dr. Sharpe and John and Gertrude Hurst, who held that farsighted vision in the early 1900s,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director “The stewardship of the property by the state parks system and the citizens of North Carolina, will ensure that vision will endure.”

Property to be acquired lies northwest of the mainland area of the state park.

The property to be acquired is northwest of the park’s 30-acre mainland section.

David Pearson, president of the Friends of Hammocks and Bear Island and executive director of Friends of State Parks, said the acquisition is a conservation benchmark. “It is the realization of a 20-year dream to add this property to what is already an outstanding state park and a jewel on our coastline,” he said. “Our gratitude goes to The Conservation Fund for its support as well as to citizens in Onslow County and Swansboro that have shared in this dream.”

Authorized in 1961, Hammocks Beach State Park recorded 178,736 visitors in 2014.

Conservancy helps acquire critical properties at South Mountains

Two relatively small land acquisitions completed at South Mountains State Park, aided by Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, will have a big impact on future public access at the park in Burke County.

The projects add critical missing links between the park’s western section near U.S. 64 south of Morganton and its eastern section reaching to the park’s main entrance off Old N.C. 18. The state park is North Carolina’s largest at 18,627 acres.

Land acquisitions will make the western section of South Mountains State Park more accessible.

Land acquisitions will make the western section of South Mountains State Park more accessible.

The larger acquisition of 95 acres provides a narrow link between the eastern and western sections near a central ridgeline. The state parks system received a grant in 2014 from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund to purchase the property and its Shoal Creek Falls from Foothills Conservancy. More than a year earlier, the conservancy had moved quickly to execute a right of first refusal and buy the tract from the Velsie McCurry heirs.

A generous contribution from conservationists Fred and Alice Stanback of Salisbury, along with a loan from Conservation Trust for North Carolina supported the conservancy’s purchase of this high-priority property. The Stanback gift allowed the conservancy to resell the property to the state at a discount.

A smaller acquisition of 37 acres was initiated during this same time period when Foothills Conservancy and the state parks system negotiated with William Barron, son of the late Dr. John Barron and Nelle Woodbury Barron. Dr. Barron had earlier worked with Foothills Conservancy to sell an adjoining 698 acres for the state park, extending the state park to U.S. 64 on either side of his picturesque home.

The purchase of the Barron home and remaining land was completed with funding from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, and gives the state park more than a mile of frontage on U.S. 64 and Roper Hollow Road. This will improve visitor access to the park’s western section. The park’s master plan calls for eventual development of a residential environmental education center there.

“The addition of these properties is a strong contribution to the conservation and recreation mission at South Mountains State Park,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director. “Connecting the eastern and western section of the park is critical in helping us fulfill an ambitious master plan. Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina has been a stalwart partner of the state parks system and other state agencies in that region. We’re grateful for the skill and persistence the conservancy brought to these projects.”

“We have one of the best, if not the best, state parks systems in the entire United States,” said Susie Hamrick Jones, Foothills Conservancy’s executive director. “Foothills Conservancy couldn’t ask for a better partner in our protection efforts in the South Mountains, as well as at Chimney Rock and Lake James. Our land trust is proud to play a role in securing tracts like these that are critical to public access and enjoyment of our region’s state parks.”

Pilot Mountain project protects climbers and cliff faces

Partly in remembrance of a rock climber who died in 2012, volunteers completed a multi-year project to replace aging bolts and anchors on climbing routes at Pilot Mountain State Park.

The effort will help protect both the climbers and the state park’s cliff faces that attract them, said William Webster of Chapel Hill, who organized the work. Webster gave credit to the Carolina Climbers Coalition, which supported the work and provided volunteers and to Park Superintendent Matt Windsor.

Young climber above the Ledge Springs Trail at Pilot Mountain State Park.

Young climber above the Ledge Springs Trail at Pilot Mountain State Park.

Webster said it seems counter-intuitive to add hardware to a cliff to protect it, but without the anchors, climbers will simply tie off ropes to handy vegetation such as pitch pines and table mountain pines.

“From (Matt’s) perspective, adding new top anchors and sport routes was a huge step toward protecting the park’s vegetation,” Webster said. “Top rope anchors take the stress off the root systems of the park’s cliff-top trees. New routes throughout the cliff helped spread out use, which also helps preserve vegetation at the base of the cliff.”

Among the first volunteers was Lloyd Ramsey, an area resident who was climbing alone in July 2012 when he fell and died under circumstances unrelated to the anchor project. The Carolina Climbers Coalition was active in cleaning and reopening climbing routes following a fire on the mountain in November 2012.

Trust fund authority reviews statewide parks and recreation needs

TROUTMAN – North Carolina’s Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) for 2015 has received widespread public interest and involvement as the state has compiled information for the five-year planning document, according to state park officials.

Tim Johnson, head of grants and special studies for the state parks system, describes a statewide outdoor recreation plan for authority members.

Tim Johnson, head of grants and special studies, describes a statewide outdoor recreation plan for authority members.

“The SCORP provides a framework for addressing issues, needs and opportunities related to improving outdoor recreation,” Tim Johnson, head of grants and special studies for the Division of Parks and Recreation, said at a meeting of the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund Authority March 27 at Lake Norman State Park.

The meeting was held in the park’s new visitor center. A dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new facility is tentatively scheduled for April 23.

Johnson said the SCORP, which is under final review, is required under the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund Program. LWCF, which sunsets this year unless Congress acts to extend the program, has provided $80 million for more than 900 state and local projects since 1965. Staff provided the boards with information about efforts under way in support of preserving LWCF.

Johnson also told board members local governments have submitted 69 grant applications requesting $13.1 million from the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund during this year’s local grants cycle. The board will consider the applications after the state’s budget is approved later this year.

In other news, Brian Strong, the division’s chief of planning and natural resources, said the master plan for the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail is nearing completion. The 1,000-mile trail corridor will ultimately link Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains to Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the coast. Nearly two thirds of the cross-state route has been completed as a continuous, off-road trail experience, offering opportunities for hiking, biking and horseback riding through some of North Carolina’s most scenic landscapes. Where the trail has not yet been completed, detours along secondary roads allow ambitious hikers to complete the trek.

“We need strong partners and a strong plan with some flexibility as we continue to move forward with this very ambitious effort,” Strong said.

The completed master plan will chart a path toward official designation of remaining portions by setting priorities for completing trail sub-sections. It will also unify regional planning efforts, identify potential new partners and funding strategies, and establish guidelines for signs and publicity.

The PARTF trustees also learned about the purpose and history of the state’s Recreation Resources Service, which provides assistance to public and private segments of the leisure service industry within North Carolina, including municipal and county park and recreation departments, nonprofit agencies, private recreation agencies, recreation consumer groups, and recreation and park board and commission members.

RRS, the nation’s oldest technical assistance program for parks and recreation agencies, provides technical assistance, applied research, and continuing education for the state, RRS Director Pete Armstrong said. Services are provided through a partnership of the Division of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management at N.C. State University.

Mike Murphy, director of the Division of Parks and Recreation, provided board members with updates on the 2015 General Assembly, division activities and plans for the state parks system’s 100th anniversary in 2016.

Researcher inventories native bees at Umstead

(The following was submitted by April Hamblin, a graduate student at North Carolina State University.)

William B. Umstead State Park in Raleigh is a place to relax and enjoy nature, but it’s also a place to ask questions about nature and try to answer those questions with science. As a graduate student at NCSU, I ask questions about how changes in our environment influences native bee populations.

NCSU graduate student April Hamblin gathers native bees at William B. Umstead State Park.

NCSU graduate student April Hamblin gathers native bees at William B. Umstead State Park.

There are over 500 species of native bees in North Carolina. Honey bees are non-native to America, originally from Europe. Most other bees in North Carolina are native and important because they are the most efficient pollinators. The reason honey bees are known for pollination is because they are managed at farms and other areas. Native bees also help pollinate agricultural areas, but are the main pollinators of natural environments. Native bees pollinate the berries for birds and backyard plants.

Since Umstead and 19 other parks and homeowners allow me to visit and collect these native bees, I can ask many scientific questions. How does temperature affect native bees? How does impervious surface – pavement or cement – affect native bees? How do flowers, bare ground and open areas affect them? And, how can we manage the environment to help the native bee populations?

To collect native bees, I put out florescent colored traps and also collect with a net. Another way to understand bees is to put out additional nesting resources. Most bees live in the ground, but many can live in hollow stems and reeds. These bees are too weak to chew through wood, so these materials make a great addition to any yard without risk of home damage.

Not only does studying native bees help me with my research, it also helps the park and other locations where I have collected. Umstead only had two bee species listed on the state parks’ Natural Resources Inventory Database before I collected here and they were the honey bee (Apis mellifera) and the carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica). Now, 20 more species have been added to the list and more may be collected this year.

It is important to document these species and others in the environment because the environment changes so much. In that way, someone in the future can perhaps use what we have learned today.

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