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.
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.”