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Town dedicates reborn Rhododendron Lake Park

State Rep. Chuck McGrady, NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund director Walter Clark, Trust Fund board member Renee Kumor cut ribbon. State Rep. Chuck McGrady, NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund director Walter Clark, Trust Fund board member Renee Kumor cut ribbon.

LAUREL PARK — From written or filmed history, Carey O’Cain recalled the resort-like amenities that Laurel Park founder Walter H. Smith built around Rhododendron Lake.

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Vacationing visitors stepped off the train on Seventh Avenue and hunted for fun.
“They’d get to downtown Hendersonville and didn’t have any place to go, so they came out here,” O’Cain, Laurel Park’s mayor, said during a celebration and dedication of the reborn Lake Rhododendron Nature Park on Friday. “In the summer of 1911, between Southern Railroad and the Dummy Line more than 100,000 people visited Laurel Park.”
The area around the lake had a pavilion, a baseball diamond, a casino with a big dance floor, the Retreat Hotel and gondolas pushing through a canal to Rainbow Lake. Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Ella Fitzgerald brought Big Band shows to the casino stage.
“In 1926, they had a fall garden and fashion revue and 3,500 people showed up,” O’Cain said.
He remembers the lake, 9 acres when he was a boy, as a big recreational destination.
“I learned to swim out here,” he said. “This was a very important place for us growing up.”
The lake will be that for families and retirees again, now that the town has completed a nine-year restoration and improvement of the historic property that had been neglected, almost drained and obscured by overgrowth. Now covering an acre, the lake features a mile of walking trails, bluebird houses, bat houses, educational signage and fishing — as long as one is accompanied by a fishing partner 12 years old or younger.
Grants from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund helped make it happen, along with the dirt-under-the-nails work of Town Board members and other volunteers.
“It’s not only beautiful but we had various parts of government actually working together,” said state Rep. Chuck McGrady, speaking under blue skies and mid-70s temperatures the day after cold rain. “It doesn’t seem like we do that very well anymore. And whoever ordered the weather, I’m glad it was today and not yesterday.”
O’Cain credited town leaders going back 30 years with guiding the project forward and thanked town workers, volunteers, the Master Gardeners program and ask-the-experts guests Trout Unlimited, Wild Birds Unlimited, Blue Ridge Humane Society and Waste Pro, which donated a bear-proof rollaway as a raffle prize.