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County, Laurel Park win park grants

An $80,000 state grant will result in $172,000 in improvements at Rhododendron Lake Nature Park in Laurel Park. An $80,000 state grant will result in $172,000 in improvements at Rhododendron Lake Nature Park in Laurel Park.

Henderson County won a $350,000 grant for the Bell Trail Park in Green River and Laurel Park won an $80,000 grant for improvements at Rhododendron Lake Nature Park in a new round of state parks and recreation grants.

The state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund Authority recommended the matching grants to the county, which still must be approved by the governor’s office. Approval of the recommended grants is usually routine and state Parks and Recreation Division official said Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to officially announce the grants this week.
The Bell Trail Park in Green River would add a hiking trail to the county parks in southern Henderson County.
The Henderson County Board of Commissioners agreed in March to a partnership with the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy to develop and maintain the Bell Trail, part of a 68-acre park that would include public access points and trails. The trail would connect the old High Bridge on U.S. 276 across the Green River and Pot Shoals and the Tuxedo hydroelectric plant on the upper Green River.
CMLC is providing the matching money in order to receive the grant. The land conservancy will then convey the property to Henderson County.
Henderson County Parks and Recreation Director Tim Hopkin said the county would partner with the CMLC on land management much as it has at a county-owned trailhead connecting to Chimney Rock State Park.
“The land managers will accept the trail access park” at the Bell Trail, he said. “It’s a little bit like we do out at the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge trail access. It’s connectivity between the high bridge and the gamelands, providing more forms of recreation, keeping links open. (The high bridge on U.S. 176) is one end and at the other end there’s Pot Shoals and a put-in on the Upper Green River.
“It was another one of those win-win situations for us. It was getting more public lands that the taxpayer was not going to have to pay for.”
There was nothing in the current Henderson County budget to add any amenities to the Bell Trail, he said, and any maintenance or repair work would be absorbed by existing Parks and Recreation crews.
“We do manage and maintain it,” he said. “If there’s storms we go in and check because nature will do its thing. You might have a tree down across the trail.”
In that case county crews would come in and clear the trail. For more minor trail maintenance and conservation, the county coordinates with CMLC, which arranges for volunteers to work on the public lands.
County Manager Steve Wyatt said it’s too early to say if the Board of Commissioners might consider any investment of its own.
“I think what would make sense now that you’ve got these assets and you’ve got these partnerships that you’ll look to see how you maximize the investment.”


Lake park to get trails, parking

Laurel Park received an $80,000 grant for Lake Rhododendron park, a natural area with a lake and walking trails. The town will match the PARTF grant with a $70,000 appropriation from fund balance and $22,000 in donations from residents, said Town Manager Alison Melnikova.
The town plans to use the grant to add walking trails, parking, a bridge and picnic area.
“I would like to have it done by next spring,” she said.
Henderson County local government units have received nine PARTF grants totaling $2.6 million since 1997 and has matched the state money with $5.5 million in local spending.