EMERALD ISLE ­— The Conservation Fund, a national environmental organization, closed Tuesday, for the town, on a $3 million purchase of a nearly 30-acre tract behind the old town hall and recreation center on the north side of Highway 58 (Emerald Drive).

The fund, which has an office in the state, will hold the property and is to convey it to the town in the spring of 2018, but will allow public use of it in the interim.

Emerald Isle Town Manager Frank Rush said use will involve walking nature trails, which will be created by town staff and some Eagle Scout candidates.

The property will become known as McLean-Spell Park, named after two of the town’s founding families. Most of it – about 20 acres – is to remain forever in its natural, maritime forest state, but about 10 acres is eventually to be used for some kind of more active park, such as ballfields.

“It’s been a complicated project; there are a lot of moving parts,” Mr. Rush said. “But we’re very pleased to get it to this point.

“The next step,” he said, “might take years,” as the town engages citizens and stakeholders in what they would like to see happen to the 10 acres reserved for more active recreation.

The moving parts to which Mr. Rush referred chiefly involve money the town is to receive from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Half of the purchase cost, $1.5 million, is coming from the military, because the land is in the flight path of jets that use Bogue Field, an auxiliary landing strip for the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.

The military is interested in protecting the land from development because of the potential for a disaster should one of its aircraft crash in a high-density residential development.

Another $500,000 has already been approved by the state General Assembly from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, as has $545,000 from the state Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

State Rep. Pat McElraft, a Republican who lives in Emerald Isle, pushed successfully for the grants to be included in the state budget for 2017-18 instead of waiting for the normal, somewhat slower, approval process by those agencies. The town is chipping in the remaining $455,000.

However, the military funds, while approved, will be slow to be released – probably three to as many as six months, Mr. Rush said Tuesday – so the town and The Conservation Fund reached agreement for the latter to handle the actual purchase.

The town will pay an additional $75,000 to The Conservation Fund for its service.

While some environmentalists have criticized the eventual use of the 10 acres of the land for active recreation – disrupting one of the largest chunks of undisturbed maritime forest on Bogue Banks – town residents have for the most part supported the plan in previous public hearings. That’s mainly because the tract, owned by Surfside Realty, has for years been zoned for more than 200 condominiums or apartments. Commissioners have made that same supportive comment.

In fact, the trails the town staff and the Eagle Scout candidates will carve out for public use on the property basically will follow, at least initially, paths that were cleared when the property was platted for development in the 1990s.

“They of course have grown over some, but those paths for the most part are still discernible,” Mr. Rush said. He added that it should not take too long for public use of the nature paths to be possible.

Mr. Rush has called the plan a “commitment” to the youth of Emerald Isle, who need an active-recreation park, and to future residents who may not have even been born yet.

As the largest undeveloped tract left in the town, it was probably the last opportunity to do so, he said earlier this year, and that desire has been reflected in town surveys, including the one that helped guide the pending land-use plan update.

The use of military funds for the acquisition will require Emerald Isle to execute a military easement and/or deed restriction to prohibit the construction of any significant buildings on the property in the future. 

“This easement, will, however, allow for the development of active recreation facilities, including the various facilities contemplated in recent months (i.e., baseball field, soccer field, tennis courts, dog park, skate park, splash park, pickleball courts, etc.) as well as associated facilities such as a small storage building, bathroom building, etc.,” Mr. Rush wrote in a memo to the board. However, the memo also states that the military funds will preclude lighting.

That’s because lighting can hamper military pilots using the auxiliary field.

In addition, he said in the memo, in an effort to protect water quality in Archers Creek, which the property borders, “any new ballfields will be designed in such a manner that stormwater runoff will be diverted away from Archers Creek, and a significant natural buffer will be preserved” along the stream.

Finally, he said, the town will designate the primary access to the new park, when it’s built, from the existing town government complex, near the Community Center.

The town doesn’t envision any motor vehicle access to the new park from Sound Drive, Lee Avenue or Live Oak Street.

Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.

(2) comments

noitall

As usual, this project has already developed legs. Mission creep will continue until Mr Rush can be replaced. Tennis? We have tennis. Baseball? Boy scouts will now be aided by town staff? Threatened species are ignored. Preservation of at least one marine forest is not even mentioned.

This concept of allowing Rush to wander around and uproot forest and cover with asphalt or gravel is a bad idea. What is his mandate. The CAMA Plan IS specific about marine forest.. Time for The Commissioners to act, or can they act.

noitall

Mission creep has been noticed regarding the development of McClain Wildlife Complex. It's a park but could easily be re-purposed to more debauchery. The Eagle Scouts have been cashiered. And the merit badges? Well who knows Their "Trail Pioneering" will be missed. But at least I can thank you future leaders for a job well done, The number of pedestrian bridges was expanded from one to two.or possibly more. I left early Final tally depends on funding that can be scarfed away from other possible tax pipelines; like bounty from trapping for example, parking meters with binoculars, even pay toilets are still on the table..There will be pine log revenue as well And then there is permitting.My chats with CAMA indicate no problems. EPA did not even twitch at the thought thought of doggy do- do in Archer's Creek Just not breaking news

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