At its spring festival Saturday, Haw River State Park marked a major milestone in its development, opening the first public access outside of The Summit Environmental Education Center.
The Iron Ore Belt Access, off North Church Street north of NC 150, is the park’s initial development on a 692-acre property that was considered for a golf course community before it was acquired by the state parks system in 2008. The new access is just west of the environmental education complex, which is reserved for private retreats, conferences and training and is not open for public visitation on a regular basis.
The access offers a 0.75-mile roadway with bike lanes that leads to a trailhead with toilet facilities and parking for 29 vehicles. The 3.2-mile Great Blue Heron Trail, built by the park’s staff, loops through varied wildlife habitats and plant communities on property that includes headwaters of the Haw River. The park’s master plan calls for further development on the property, including camping facilities, picnic grounds and additional trails – amenities that will ultimately help support hikers on the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail. The opening is the first step toward realizing an ambitious master plan for the state park in northern Guilford and southern Rockingham counties.
The development represents a $1.7 million investment through the N.C. Park and Recreation Trust Fund. Stewart Engineering Inc. designed the project and general contractor was SIMCON Company LLC.
State parks planners began eyeing the property as a prime acquisition even before the park was authorized in 2003. Conservationists and park supporters in the community lobbied Guilford County government to use zoning tools to nudge the property toward state park ownership rather than commercial development. The state park now encompasses 1,379 acres.