Gov. McCrory: Connect NC will benefit Hammocks Beach and state parks system

Gov. Pat McCrory combined celebration and a call to action in a visit to Hammocks Beach State Park Tuesday to gather more support for the Connect NC bond initiative.

The celebration was for the addition of 289 acres on the mainland of the coastal park, the result of a settlement with the heirs of the Hurst family. The Governor met with members of that family who attended the event and congratulated them on maintaining the family’s legacy of conservation.

Gov. Pat McCrory talks about Connect NC flanked by Donald van der Vaart, Secretary of DENR, and Susan Klutz, Secretary of the Department of Cultural Resources.

Gov. Pat McCrory talks about Connect NC flanked by Donald van der Vaart, Secretary of DENR, and Susan Kluttz, Secretary of the Department of Cultural Resources.

McCrory asked the more than 100 state parks supporters present to contact members of the N.C. General Assembly to place the bond referendum before voters this year. Bond approval would result in $67.3 million for capital and land acquisition projects at 28 state parks, including $1.5 million to begin building recreation facilities on the property acquired at Hammocks Beach. The Governor made a similar plea June 11 at Pilot Mountain State Park where almost $6 million would be earmarked for a visitor center and related facilities.

“Our investment in Hammocks Beach will allow the park to operate year-round by providing an expanded mainland area for environmental education and popular outdoor recreation areas,” McCrory said. “Improvements at Hammocks Beach and other state parks will allow us to meet the needs of our growing state population and to ensure these cherished assets are preserved for generations to come.”

In his argument for the $2.85 million bond package for transportation and infrastructure, McCrory recalled the initiatives of U.S. Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower that, he said, benefitted a generation of Americans in the areas of conservation and transportation.

Gov. McCrory meets with Harriet Hurst Turner and other members of the Hurst family.

Gov. McCrory meets with Harriet Hurst Turner and other members of the Hurst family.

Connect NC projects will benefit every community across the state while creating thousands of jobs along the way and taking advantage of record low interest rates. Because of the state’s fiscal strength and strong balance sheet, no tax increase is needed to fund the bonds and the state’s AAA bond rating would be preserved.

“We are very excited for this capital infusion in state parks, and I think our population will really benefit from the new visitor centers, new campgrounds, new trails and new day use facilities,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director. “It will be a wide range of new opportunities for our citizens and visitors to enjoy the parks.”

Learn more about the Connect NC bond proposal here.

Conservancy aids acquisition of critical watershed at South Mountains State Park

Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina has partnered with the state parks system, the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund and others to conserve what was one of the largest remaining unprotected watershed tracts in the South Mountains.

Streams on the newly acquired property feed the pristine Jacob Fork River in the state park.

Streams on the newly acquired property feed the pristine Jacob Fork River in the state park.

Together, the conservancy and the state parks system purchased a 2,207-acre tract known as Simms Hill on June 4. Of the total acreage, 757 acres were acquired for addition to South Mountains State Park, bringing the largest state park to more than 19,500 acres.

Foothills Conservancy will use the remaining 1,450 acres to establish the regional land trust’s new South Mountains Headwaters Preserve for the protection and enhancement of water quality, biodiversity and wildlife habitat. A permanent conservation easement protecting 300-foot streamside buffer zones on 624 acres of the property was conveyed to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, And, Foothills Conservancy acquired an additional 43-acre tract earlier this year, which will also be part of the new preserve.

“This latest acquisition by Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina will protect a Significant Natural Heritage Area in South Mountains State Park as well as water quality in the park’s pristine streams,” said Mike Murphy, state parks director. “It’s a great example of the conservancy’s commitment and our proven partnership to safeguard natural resources for future generations.”

More than 16 miles of headwater streams lace the rugged, heavily forested mountain tract and feed the designated outstanding resource waters of the Henry Fork and Jacob Fork rivers. These rivers converge downstream to form the South Fork of the Catawba River, a major tributary of the Catawba River that ultimately supplies clean drinking water to more than two million people.

The watershed property and preserve are northeast of the Clear Creek area of the park.

The watershed property and preserve are northeast of the Clear Creek area of the park.

Gov. McCrory brings Connect NC message to Pilot Mountain State Park

Gov. Pat McCrory, flanked by cabinet secretaries and budget director, explains the Connect NC bond proposal to parks supporters at Pilot Mountain.

Gov. Pat McCrory, flanked by cabinet secretaries and budget director, explains the Connect NC bond proposal to parks supporters at Pilot Mountain State Park.

Pilot Mountain State Park provided the scenery and Gov. Pat McCrory provided the strong argument Thursday for supporting the Connect NC bond package that includes $67.3 million for state parks.

On a visit to the iconic mountain, McCrory said the state parks system’s 2016 centennial gives North Carolinians a chance to honor its founders by “pushing forward” with the proposal that will finance projects in 28 state parks. The first step in that process is to convince the N.C General Assembly that a bond referendum should be put before voters in November, he said.

“Our state parks system is a major reason businesses and people relocate to North Carolina and a point of pride for those of us who call North Carolina home,” McCrory said. “The Connect NC bond proposal will address critical needs throughout the parks and improve the quality of life for everyone in the state.

The Connect NC proposal encompasses two bond issues totaling $2.85 billion for transportation and other infrastructure such as state parks, state historic sites and North Carolina’s zoo. McCrory’s team on the visit included Transportation Secretary Tony Tata, State Budget Director Lee Roberts, Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Donald van der Vaart and Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Klutz.

Roberts told state park supporters that the bond projects reflect strategic priorities and are tailored to different areas of the state. “We’re not doing anything extravagant. We’re just trying to keep with the necessary maintenance,” he said.

Gov. Pat McCrory takes in the view from the Little Pinnacle at Pilot Mountain State Park.

Gov. Pat McCrory takes in the view from the Little Pinnacle at Pilot Mountain State Park.

McCrory noted that the state parks system now serves more than 15 million visitors each year – including about 400,000 at Pilot Mountain – and that the demand for more park facilities will only grow with added population. The bond package includes almost $6 million for a visitor center and related facilities at Pilot Mountain. Across the system, the bonds would include funding for other visitor centers, trail development, campground and access improvements, day use areas and land acquisitions. The parks’ modern visitor centers are designed to green building standards and offer classrooms, exhibits and other educational features.

Connect NC projects will benefit every community across the state while creating thousands of jobs along the way. Because of the state’s fiscal strength and strong balance sheet, no tax increase is needed to fund the bonds and the state’s AAA bond rating would be preserved.

Click here to discover more facts about the Connect NC bond proposal and here to view a video about the bonds and state parks.

Visitors enjoying new vantage points for Chimney Rock views

An addition to the popular Outcroppings Trail at Chimney Rock State Park has been completed that restores access to three popular attractions on the mountain – the Subway, the Grotto and Pulpit Rock.

View of Lake Lure from the Grotto on Chimney Rock Mountain.

View of Lake Lure from the Grotto on Chimney Rock Mountain.

Each of the peculiar rock formations offers unique views of Hickory Nut Gorge, Lake Lure and surrounding mountains and they could be considered “opening acts” on the way to the commanding view from Chimney Rock itself near the mountain summit. The Outcroppings Trail, which scrambles up the mountain, was renovated in 2011, and this new trail spur relies on the same construction techniques. Those include intricate boardwalks and stairs to navigate near-vertical terrain and to protect delicate vegetation. Some of the materials had to be delivered to the construction site by helicopter.

Access to the three points of interest was lost in 2008 when an aging trail to that area of the mountain was among several trail segments declared unsafe. The closings spurred a determined effort to eventually restore access to hard-to-reach vantage points with new and renovated trails. The Outcroppings Trail is a linchpin in the overall restoration effort and also serves as an alternative to a 1940s-era elevator for access onto the mountain. Several phases of trail construction have been financed by the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.

Mike Murphy, state parks director, said, “The renovation of these popular visitor features to make them safe and attractive has been a priority at Chimney Rock State Park. We’re confident our visitors will find the park more enjoyable that ever with an ever-expanding list of activities.

Team tackles hydrilla infestation in Eno River

Researchers and Eno River State Park staff are taking an initial step to combat the invasive aquatic weed hydrilla there, launching a two-year pilot project to introduce an herbicide into the river.

Hydrilla creates nearly impenetrable mats on the river's surface.

Hydrilla creates nearly impenetrable mats on the river’s surface.

The Eno River Hydrilla Management Task Force, representing several state agencies, approved installation of a mechanism near the park’s western boundary that gradually introduces the herbicide fluridone in hopes that it will be effective along a 16-mile downriver section. A contractor is supplying the herbicide in a concentration that is EPA-approved as safe for swimmers and boaters and non-toxic to fish and wildlife.

This marks the first time the herbicide is being used in a North Carolina river, although it has been used successfully at Lake Waccamaw State Park and Lake Gaston, Lake Tillery and Tar River Reservoir. After months of study and monitoring the river, the task force decided that pulling the weed by hand or introducing grass carp to consume hydrilla are not practical.

Hydrilla is a submersed aquatic plant that can create nearly impenetrable mats of stems and leaves on the surface of lakes, rivers and other waterways. An invasive species from Asia, hydrilla impedes recreational use of waterways, crowds out native vegetation and can ultimately harm fish and other aquatic species. The plant can also clog intakes where rivers or reservoirs are used for drinking water supplies and irrigation.

“This is a very real threat to the Eno River, both in terms of recreation and the vulnerable species in the waterway,” said Keith Nealson, Eno River State Park superintendent. “The Eno is not only a natural and cultural treasure for people in this region, but a bellwether for the health of the river basin, including Falls Lake and other sources of drinking water.”

Research by the task force and North Carolina State University suggests the hydrilla is spreading downriver at a rate of up to one mile a year and could soon become a serious nuisance in Falls Lake.

Stone Mountain is ground zero for fifth bioblitz

Signa Williams searches for insect species during the bioblitz. Williams and her husband Floyd Williams are former park rangers who have assisted at every one of the bioblitz events.

Signa Williams searches for insect species during the bioblitz. Williams and her husband Floyd Williams are former park rangers who have assisted at every one of the bioblitz events.

About two dozen researchers from universities, state agencies and conservation groups converged at Stone Mountain State Park May 16 for the fifth bioblitz staged by the state parks system.

Most were indistinguishable from the thousands of weekend park visitors, except perhaps for the field guides they carried and the occasional bug or leaf that they carried away to be identified later. A bioblitz is designed to identify as many species as possible in a state park within a 24-hour period. State parks biologist Ed Corey has organized the events, with the first one held two years ago at Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve.

Taking inventory of species, both rare and common, is an important part of managing state parks. To make good decision on managing the land and placing facilities, it’s important to know what species live in a park – and exactly where they live. Rangers and parks system biologists are always adding to the list of known species with lists (and photos) entered into an online database. But, the extra help from a bioblitz can cover a lot of scientific ground in a short time. Corey said the results of the May event will be compiled over the next six months.

The team had help from a group of Appalachian State University students who waded into park streams with their nets and plowed into decayed logs looking for signs of life. The bioblitz events draw a range of researchers, including those highly specialized for such species as fungi or mollusks as well as generalists that have a fairly high degree of knowledge on many species types.

Here’s a gallery of photos from the bioblitz. Click any photo to begin.

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.

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