Reprinted from the Carteret County News-Times
All five Emerald Isle commissioners expressed support Tuesday night for maintaining the 30-acre McLean-Spell Park in its current state: dense maritime forest with walking trails.
Commissioners spoke after Town Manager Matt Zapp presented the results of a monthlong online survey that showed an overwhelming majority of respondents wanted no development in the park, which is behind the town recreation center and along Archers Creek.
The board’s monthly session was in its meeting room beside the police department.
“No bulldozing and no cutting,” said Commissioner Jim Normile, who led off the comments. He noted that a $500,000 grant the town received from the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, or PARTF, to help pay for the property in 2017 requires recreation on the site but does not require development. Walking is recreation, he said.
Normile also said the town should not even put a bathroom in the park, since there is one nearby, beside the basketball courts behind the police department and town meeting room.
Commissioner Jamie Vogel agreed. “I share the sentiments of the results of the survey,” she said. She added one suggestion, which came to her from resident Trevor Brownlow: putting up some educational signs about the trees and other plants in the park.
Commissioner Floyd Messer said Summit Design and Engineering of Hillsborough, the consulting firm that the town hired to develop a master plan for the park, is going to make three “concept” sketches based on the public input.
“I sincerely hope one of them is what I have in mind, and if it is, you will be happy,” he said to the audience, most of which was at the meeting to support conservation of the forest.
Commissioner Steve Finch said he had likely spoken to 150 people about the park in recent weeks, and the overwhelming majority didn’t want any clearing of the forest. Some suggested benches and picnic tables, ideas he supported, but without clearing.
Finch suggested that the town add some “personality” to the park by naming the trails and suggested one could be named for state Rep. Pat McElraft, an Emerald Isle resident who helped get the money to buy the land.
The final commissioner to speak was Mark Taylor. “I think we’re all thinking the same way,” he said.
He said the town could put bird houses and deer feeders in the park “to bring more animals in” to the safe spot in the middle of the town government center.
Taylor also noted that while Bogue Banks Water Corp. is leasing a small site in the park – 200 feet by 220 feet – the new well is essential to the town.
He suggested that the town put a fire hydrant in the park so if a fire broke out, the fire department could quickly access water to douse it.
Other than that, Taylor said, “I’m all about trees.” But he suggested the town clean up the trails a bit.
Zapp called the response to survey the best he’s ever seen. He said 78% of the 1,238 survey respondents were Emerald Isle property owners and 68% were residents of the town.
Although the sentiment was clearly to keep the park natural, he noted there were some respondents who favored some development, such as a dog park of swimming pool.
The town bought the 30-acre property, which was then zoned for multifamily residential development, for $3 million in 2017, with the idea of protecting it from development and to maintain water quality in Archers Creek, a tributary of Bogue Sound.
In addition to the PARTF grant, money for the purchase came from the town, through an internal loan, the North Carolina Land and Water Trust Fund and the U.S. Department of Defense, which was interested in precluding dense development in the flight path of plans that come and go from Bogue Field, an auxiliary landing strip and training facility for U.S Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point located on N.C. 24 between Morehead City and Swansboro.
Most of the land – about 20 acres – was to remain forever as a natural, maritime forest under terms of a state grant that paid much of the cost of purchase, but town officials have always said about 10 acres could eventually be used for such things as a dog park and possibly a ballfield.
Summit is expected to deliver concept sketches for the park and a cost estimate to the town in September, and a final report is to be submitted by the end of November.
This story is provided courtesy of the Carteret County News-Times, a newspaper published in Morehead City. Coastal Review partners with the News-Times to provide our readers with news of the North Carolina coast.