CEDAR POINT — After months of delay caused mostly by tree damage from Hurricane Florence, the town’s new park along the White Oak River will open to the public at 8 a.m. Friday, Nov. 8.
Commissioner John Nash made the announcement Tuesday night during the town board’s monthly meeting in town hall off Sherwood Avenue.
Speaking during commission comments, Mr. Nash said the 56-acre, heavily wooded park will temporarily be called Boathouse Creek Walking Trails in Cedar Point.
Boathouse Creek leads to the river and park land abuts both waterways. However, Mr. Nash said the town will seek a permanent name for the park in the future, with input from residents.
“Don Redfearn (public works director) and his team have worked diligently to get the park ready for public access,” Mr. Nash said Tuesday.
Workers for a contractor also had to get rid of dangling branches, remove some fallen trees from the hiking trails and mark trails so people won’t get lost in the dense woods.
There’s a gate at the entrance to the park on Masonic Avenue, and it will be opened every morning at 8 a.m. and closed at 7 p.m., Mr. Nash added.
There are five to eight “semi-delineated” parking spaces inside a small area to the left beyond the gate. There are also two handicap parking spaces.
Initially, the park will be for walking, enjoying nature and fishing, Mr. Nash said. There is abundant wildlife and a cornucopia of native flora.
One of the trails is a mile long, another is 0.8 of a mile and a third is 0.4 of mile. Each is marked with reflective signs of a different color. There is a dock, but it will remain closed to the public for safety reasons.
The town is seeking a $150,000 state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant to buy and build a kayak launch, dock and permeable parking lot.
The town bought the 56-acre waterfront tract for $2.8 million in April from the N.C. Masons, with the intent of offering passive recreation and providing a stormwater runoff buffer between nearby residential development and the river in order to protect and enhance water quality. The property had previously been zoned for multi-family development.
The park includes all of the remaining undeveloped Masonic property in town except the historic Octagon House and its grounds.
Mr. Nash said for now, there will be no restrooms on park property and no trash receptacles. He said anyone who hikes should pack out what they bring along.
All state laws are applicable within the park, and the property will be patrolled by the town’s sheriff’s deputy, Kurt Nokamura, and others from the sheriff’s department when needed. There will be no town staff on site.
Mr. Nash urged anyone who uses the park to “be aware of your surroundings,” and said if someone calls 911, law enforcement and/or the Western Carteret Fire and EMS Department, located nearby on Sherwood Avenue, will respond.
“We hope you enjoy the park,” said Mr. Nash, who added that the town has a long-range plan, which was developed by a consulting engineering firm, for the property.
Features in that plan, which Mr. Nash said will take shape in “baby steps” as the town can afford them, include a parking lot with a restroom/shelter, paved and natural trails, a nature play area, three water view platforms, a fishing pier, the kayak and canoe launch with a drop-off area away from the water, a single-stall waterless bathroom, a bench, swing and hammock area close to the water, an open space/events lawn, a picnic area and a living shoreline to protect against erosion.
The town took possession of the property in April, about five months after voters in November 2018 overwhelmingly approved a bond referendum to pay for it.
Officials have told taxpayers the town will seek grants to help defray 3-cent property tax hike that went into effect July 1 to pay off the bonds, which were bought by Sterling National Bank of New York.
So far, the town has received three grants. The first one, from the N.C. Coastal Land Trust, was for $250,000 and was used as a down payment on the purchase. The second, to be used to pay down the debt, was $1,011,756 from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust. The third, for $500,000, was from PARTF and will also be used to pay down the debt, as allowed in the town’s contract with the bank.
Mayor Scott Hatsell has said he will pursue a tax decrease when the board begins budget deliberations in the spring.
During the meeting Tuesday, Commissioner David Winberry suggested the park eventually be named for Edward Hill, who owned the property and built the Octagon House in 1855, or John S. Jones, a town founding father who also owned the land and structure for a time.
Mayor Hatsell said those ideas were worthy of discussion and officials want to hear from the public.
The land was originally granted by King George III of England to Thomas Lee in 1713. It was once a Native American camp ground, according to an online history complied Mary Warshaw of Beaufort, but became a plantation, with a sawmill and salt works.
In 1765, according to the history, William Hill of Virginia purchased what had become known as the Cedar Point Plantation. Edward Hill is a descendant of William Hill.
Eventually it was handed down to Mr. Jones, who inherited it from his mother, Mary Hill Jones, the daughter of Edward Hill.
Mr. Jones, who was born in the Octagon House in 1924, donated the land to the Masons in 1999. In recent years, the Masons have been selling some of it for development, such as the plot where Neuse Sport Shop stands at the intersection of Highway 24 and Masonic Avenue.
Mr. Jones was instrumental in establishing the Cedar Point Property Owners Association, the forerunner of the establishment of the town in 1988 by an act of the General Assembly. He was a town commissioner for eight years and died in 2015.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.