Reprinted from the Tideland News
SWANSBORO — SageDesign, the firm chosen by the state to do the master plan for the mainland area of Hammocks Beach State Park, has posted on the park website a survey designed to get opinions about the future of the park.
The Wilmington-based consultants have also set Sept. 29, as the date for the first public meeting to gather additional input and ideas.
The meeting will be from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. in the park’s visitors’ center, and those interested can drop in at any time. A second public meeting will be in January or February, and a third will be in March or April and is intended for the presentation of the final recommendations.
The survey asks respondents to provide basic information about themselves, including age and race and how many times they have visited the park and why.
But the meat of the survey seeks visitors’ and area residents’ ideas about what they’d like to see on the mainland property, most notably the 290 acres added as the result of a court settlement with the previous owner, the Hurst family.
It asks about such things as hiking trails and bike trails; camping, whether primitive or cabins or trailers and RVs; and lists other possibilities, such as an amphitheater, a rope course, disc golf, leash-free dog area, a playground, event space, sports courts, a swimming area and, the most controversial idea that has surfaced so far, a regional boat launch.
It also asks about “non-motorized” boat rentals, and such things as programs to inform visitors about the history and culture of the park.
David Pearson said he’s glad the process is getting started and that the idea of the boat-launching facility has been around at least since 2009. He is president of the Friends of the Hammocks and Bear Island, the park’s volunteer support group, and also executive director of the statewide Friends of N.C. State Parks group.
“It’s not been a secret,” he said. “It’s been discussed for years, and until recently, hasn’t been controversial.”
However, the idea, which was never a possible feature of any state plan for Hammocks Beach, came to public attention last year during the debate surrounding a $2 billion state bond referendum that passed in March. The sum included $75 million for the state parks, of which $1.125 million went to Hammocks Beach. Neither the bill authorizing the referendum nor the resulting bond earmarks money for the boat ramp.
Opponents of the ramp say it will affect the tranquility of the park, increase traffic on local roads and damage the ecology of Queens Creek, a shallow stream adjoining the park. They’d rather see the money used for trails and maintenance of existing facilities within the park.
Pearson, on the other hand, has countered that a ramp is needed in the area, and that park is a good place for it because almost all of the park is made up of islands accessible only by boat.
All of this has quite a history. The private corporation that owned the 289 acres adjacent to the park’s headquarters on Queen’s Creek, considered a boat launch as far back as 2006, Pearson said. Though the corporation approached Onslow County Parks and Recreation and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the launch was never built. But neither did the idea die, Pearson said.
After a protracted court battle, the state acquired the property from the corporation in legal settlement in 2014.
The addition of the boat ramp is likely to resurface both during the master plan public meetings. State officials continue to say the fate of the boat ramp hangs on public input.
“If the master planning process shows that a boat ramp is not needed or desired or is not feasible on the property, we can request that the bond funding be reallocated to a different project on the new property at Hammocks Beach,” Brian Strong, chief of the planning section for the parks division said recently. “It’s important for the decision on the boat ramp to be made as part of the overall master planning process. This will ensure that all viewpoints are heard and considered, and it will ensure that all relevant engineering and environmental information is available for the evaluation of feasibility.”
Pearson said the planning process is funded by $125,000 from the state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.
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This story is provided courtesy of the Tideland News, a weekly newspaper in Swansboro. Coastal Review Online is partnering with the Tideland to provide readers with more environmental and lifestyle stories of interest about our coast. You can read other stories about the Swansboro area here.