Monday, August 29, 2016

100 years of N.C. state parks, but never one for Mecklenburg

North Carolina's Mount Mitchell State Park turned 100 this year. Photo: By Two Hearted River - CC BY-SA 3.0,
The 2016 commemoration of the 100th anniversary of North Carolina's first state park scored a huge win last week with the announcement that 2,744 acres will be added to that first park, Mount Mitchell. That will more than double the park's size, and is a welcome tribute.

But if you visit the Find a Park website for the North Carolina State Parks Department, you may notice that unlike the Triangle, which boasts five, there is no state park or recreation area in Mecklenburg County, the state's most populous county and one of the larger ones in size as well (ranking 38 of 100).

But did you know a state park was once proposed for Mecklenburg County? The city-county 2005 plan, dated 1985, proposed a state park in the northeastern corner of the county, east of Davidson. It did not happen. Sadly, that area, which for two decades was protected by the town of Davidson's decision not to allow sewer service there, is now being proposed for sewer service, which likely means subdivisions, not rural farmland, will be the future.

If you're in Charlotte, especially in the part of town with the bulk of the population (south and southeast of uptown) you may note Google's assessment that it's 45 minutes from Charlotte to Crowders Mountain State Park in western Gaston County, but
that simply proves Google has never actually driven to Crowders Mountain. Google says it's an hour from Charlotte to Lake Norman State Park, which means it's really more like an hour and a half.  Those are our state park options, folks. Any others are a couple of hours away unless you are driving at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning, in which they're, maybe, an hour and 45 minutes.

About that lost opportunity for a Mecklenburg state park: It says on Page 81 of the Generalized Land Plan 2005: "A major state park should be developed in the Rocky River basin, in the county's northeast corner, to serve Mecklenburg and adjoining counties. ... The county park and recreation department should enter into negotiations with the state and adjacent counties to determine and appropriate size and location."

And I should lose 20 pounds. Some things just never happen.

I am not sure why Mecklenburg County came up short for state parks. My guess: A combination of the once-Democratic-dominated state government not being fond of the once-Republican government here, added to the likely disinclination of power brokers in "growth is good" Mecklenburg to set any prime chunk of develop-able land off limits to subdivisions.

Could a state park be built here today? I think that train has left the station. Few large sections of the county remain undeveloped. The lake shorelines are in private hands or else owned and preserved by county taxpayers. Indeed, Mecklenburg taxpayers have shouldered most of the load of preserving our parkland and natural areas, helped by a few nongovernment programs such as the Catawba Lands Conservancy. We're left with just some words from a dusty plan and regrets.