Gov. Pat McCrory's CONNECT NC bond proposal is seeking $1.48 billion for 101 infrastructure projects in 64 of North Carolina's 100 counties and $1.37 billion for 27 highway projects and 176 paving projects in 57 counties.
The infrastructure bond would fund projects in 28 state parks for $62.3 million. These include visitor centers, camping amenities, access and day use area improvements and land acquisitions.
The proposal will be presented as two separate measures on the November ballot. No tax increases are necessary to finance the bonds over 20 years, the governor's office says.
Highlights of projects planned for North Carolina's state parks include:
* Chimney Rock - $2M to expand and renovate a number of trails.
* Dismal Swamp - $1.3M for work to stabilize roads for use as trails.
* Lumber River - $3.5 for a community building, paved entry and parking area, restrooms, and picnic grounds with a shelter to “contribute to a new state park presence.”
* Merchants Millpond - $1.16M for a new campground loop with 20 tent-only sites, and new electrical/water service for RV sites. Merchants Millpond camping includes a family campground, backpacking and canoe camping
We spent some of Memorial Day at Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area in Hillsborough.
The small park offers more than three miles of trail with changing elevation and three distinct rewards: the Eno River, an overlook and an abandoned quarry. There are also two fishing ponds on the 190-acre property and a few picnic tables next to the parking lot.
A 2001 rockslide in the quarry displaced about 2,500 cubic yards of rock weighing nearly 5,100 tons, according to geologists.
Click on the photo below of the rockslide area in the quarry for our new Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area page.
The Forest Service announced completion of access to an 80-foot waterfall in the Pisgah National Forest near Marion last week.
The Falls Branch Trail is now a paved half-mile walk to a wheelchair accessible observation deck at the foot of Toms Creek Falls (below). The Forest Service news release calls it "a breathtaking 80-foot cascade."
The small recreation area also provides parking off of Huskins Branch Road in McDowell County.
Huskins Branch is 12 miles from I-40 exit 85 on U.S. 221 North. The recreation area is 1.2 miles farther to the left.
Two coastal campgrounds are providing upgraded options for camping near the beach in North Carolina.
The U.S. Forest Service said today renovations at Cedar Point Campground in the Croatan National Forest will be finished in time to open the campground for Memorial Day weekend.
A news release says the project included replacing the campground's electrical, septic and water systems, rebuilding 13 campsites and relocating the camp host sites and the dump station "to more efficient and camper-accessible locations."
The $700,000 project began last September 30. At the time, the Forest Service expected it to require closing the campground for five months.
Cedar Point Campground (below) and the Tideland Trail, which has also been closed, will reopen Thursday, May 21, according to Recreation.gov, the camping reservation site. Reservations may be made now.
Cedar Point, near Swansboro, is the most popular campground in the Croatan National Forest. It has 40 campsites, flush toilets and showers, electrical hookups, potable water and a picnic area. The Cedar Point Recreation Area provides opportunity for fishing, wading, boating, hiking trails and other family-friendly activities.
Near Wilmington, Carolina Beach State Park's campground will upgrade eight of its 83 existing "primitive" campsites to include water, sewer and electricity hookups, and will install small camper cabins at four other sites, according to the Star News.
The proposed cabins, "similar to those seen at KOA Campgrounds," will have small heating/air conditioner units and electricity but no indoor plumbing, the newspaper says.
The park was still seeking contractors for the project when the Star News report was published earlier this month, and no start or completion dates were set.
Campsites at Carolina Beach State Park currently have picnic tables and grills, and flush toilets, hot showers and potable water are at centrally located bath houses. Two campsites are wheelchair accessible.
Carolina Beach State Park also has a marina on the Cape Fear River at Snow's Cut, a visitors center and opportunities for fishing, hiking, kayak and paddleboard rentals, and picnicking. It is also well-known as one of few homes to the Venus' flytrap, butterwort and bladderwort carnivorous plants.
Cedar Point Campground in the Croatan National Forest, below, is to reopen in time for Memorial Day Weekend after a seven-month renovation project. Click on the photo for more information about the Cedar Point Recreation Area.
Hammocks Beach State Park will increase its footprint on the mainland by about 300 acres thanks to a purchase by the state and The Conservation Fund's North Carolina chapter.
Most of the current parkland consists of about 1,100 acres on three barrier islands, of which one is open to the public and accessible only by boat. The new acquisition adds to about 30 existing acres on the mainland that now includes a visitors center and ferry dock.
The newly acquired land was once used as a retreat for black teachers and their families, according to The News & Observer, and may eventually be developed to include a campground and trails.
The N&O report details the "8-1/2-year-long legal battle that was as tangled as the maritime forest growing on the 290 acres along Queen’s Creek just outside Swansboro," which preceded the sale of the land to the state.
Harriett Turner and her brother, John Hurst, ultimately sold their family's land to the state and the Conservation Fund for $10.1 million, and the Conservation Fund its leasing its share to the state. But before her family land is handed over, Turner says she wants to restore one of two former 4-H camps on the property and operate a youth camp there.
The tract, depicted in a state parks map below, is considered one of the last large undeveloped pieces of coastal waterfront land in the state.
David Pearson, president of the Friends of Hammocks and Bear Island and executive director of Friends of State Parks, said on the state parks blog that the acquisition is the realization of a 20-year dream.
Hammocks Beach State Park will expand by about 300 acres northwest of the park’s current 30-acre mainland section. Click on the map for more information about Hammocks Beach State Park.
The Fish and Wildlife Service this week announced the official designation of the Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge in western North Carolina, the 12th refuge in North Carolina and the first one west of Charlotte.
The site of the refuge at this point is a 39-acre parcel in Ashe County, but it could eventually grow to 23,000 acres scattered across Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Clay, Graham, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Transylvania, Wilkes and Watauga counties in North Carolina, and Carter and Johnson counties in Tennessee, a news release says.
Expansion will depend on landowners' willingness to sell and the availability of money to buy land.
The current site is an easement donated by the Nature Conservancy.
According to the news release:
"Mountain bogs are typically small and widely scattered across the landscape, often isolated from other wetlands. Important to wildlife and plants, mountain bogs are home to five endangered species – bog turtles, green pitcher plant, mountain sweet pitcher plant, swamp pink (a lily), and bunched arrowhead. They also provide habitat for migratory birds and game animals, including mink, woodcock, ruffed grouse, turkey, and wood duck. Bogs are breeding habitat for many species of amphibians, especially salamanders, of which the Southern Appalachians have the greatest diversity in the nation.
"Bogs also provide key benefits to humans. They have a natural capacity for regulating water flow, holding floodwaters like giant sponges and slowly releasing water to nearby streams decreasing the impacts of floods and droughts."
The Fish and Wildlife Service says some parts of the refuge would likely be too fragile for recreation, but other parts could open for hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, education and interpretation (i.e., nature trails).
A trout lily blooms at the Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge. (FWS photo)
Most Blue Ridge Parkway facilities will be open for the 2015 season by May 1 or 2, with picnic areas opening mid-April and one campground partially opening April 1.
The National Park Service posted 2015 spring / summer hours for Parkway facilities today.
Most Parkway campgrounds open May 1 on a first come, first served basis but will take reservations through recreation.gov from May 15 on. Most campgrounds reserve campsites but have a few that remain available without reservations.
* Linville Falls Campground will have one tent camping loop open as of April 3 and allow campers to register themselves.
* Crabtree Falls Campground, which has been closed for two seasons, will open one tent camping loop and one RV loop on May 1.
* Price Park (below) and Mt. Pisgah campgrounds will open May 1 with full services.
* Doughton Park Campground will have two tent loops and an RV loop open May 1.
Picnic areas throughout the Parkway open April 17, except at Price Park, where they remain open year-round.
Most visitor centers and other facilities, like the Blue Ridge Music Center and the Moses Cone Manor House, open May 1 or 2. The Parkway Craft Center at the Moses Cone Manor opened March 15.
The Parkway also runs into Virginia, and some northern sites open later in May.
Parkway sites that close for the winter do so around the end of October.
Camping at Julian Price Park (below) and most other Parkway campgrounds begins for the season May 1. Click on either photo for more about Price Park, which is popular for picnicking year-round and boat rentals, which resume for weekends April 3.
The lighthouse at Cape Lookout National Seashore will be open an additional day each week for climbing during the 2015 season.
The 163-foot lighthouse will be open Tuesday through Saturday this year, a National Park Service news release says, with the season running form May 12 to September 19. It will also be open on the Sunday of three holiday weekends: May 24, July 5 and September 6.
It was previously open Wednesday through Saturday during the season.
Climbing hours are 9:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., with ticket sales from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for senior citizens (62 or older), children younger than 12, and those holding a National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Access Pass.
Children must be at least 44 inches tall (3.5 feet), and those who are younger than 13 years old must be accompanied by someone who is 16 or older.
The news release says climbing the Cape Lookout Lighthouse is equivalent to climbing a 10-story building, but the NPS webpage says "Climbing the 207 steps to the gallery is roughly equal to climbing a 12-story building." The climb covers 207 steps inside the lighthouse, which may be hot, humid, noisy and dim, the NPS advises.
"Shoes are required; heels should be less than 1½ inches. Flip-flops are not recommended," the website says.
You have 18 additional opportunities to climb the Cape Lookout Lighthouse this year.
Pisgah National Forest officials are taking precautions against bear encounters in a popular area of the Shining Rock Wilderness Area by temporarily closing it to overnight camping and ordering the use of bear canisters when camping in adjacent areas.
Officials say in a news release that a bear "entered a tent and removed a hiker's backpack" in the Graveyard Fields area.
Graveyard Fields is a high valley area within the Shining Rock Wilderness popular for dispersed primitive camping. The valley is accessible from a newly renovated Blue Ridge Parkway overlook at Milepost 418.8 and a 2.3 mile loop trail that goes to three waterfalls. The Beech Gap (Section 6) portion of the Mountains to Sea Trail also passes through the valley.
The area will remain open for day use, but the Forest Service will monitor the area "over the next few weeks" to determine when to reopen it for overnight camping, the news release says.
It is not unusual to suspend camping in the Shining Rock area because of bear activity. The entire wilderness area was closed to camping because of a series of incidents in October 2012.
Overnight campers are also being required to use bear canisters in the adjacent areas of the Shining Rock Wilderness, Black Balsam, Sam's Knob and Flat Laurel Creek. The Forest Service has received numerous reports of bears acquiring food from backcountry campers in the area.
Canisters must be commercially made and constructed of solid, non-pliable material manufactured for the specific purpose of resisting entry by bears, the release says.
"In springtime bears are opportunistically looking for food that campers and trail users bring on their trips," Pisgah District Ranger Derek Ibarguen says in the release. "Black bear attacks on people are rare but when we do have encounters we do our best to break the cycle of success so the bears do not become habituated to humans - protecting both our visitors and the bears."
Campers are also advised to not leave food unattended and to clean up food or garbage around fire rings, grills, or other areas of campsites.
Dates for North Carolina campgrounds include:
* Balsam Mountain - May 22 to October 13.
* Big Creek - April 10 to October 31.
* Catalooche - April 3 to October 31.
* Deep Creek - April 10 to October 31.
* Tow String Horse Camp - April 3 to October 31.
Smokemont Campground is open year-round.
Frontcountry camping fees, which range from $14 to $23 per night, have not changed for 2015.
Backcountry camping is permitted year-round and is free, though a permit is required.
Picnic grounds that close during the winter are also opening in early April. The picnic areas at Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, and Metcalf Bottoms remain open year-round.