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Polk gets $500k grant to finalize purchase of Alexander’s Ford

North Carolina has awarded a $500,000 grant that will allow Polk County to acquire and enhance the historic 164-acre Alexander’s Ford property for a nature preserve and park.

Ambrose Mills, who has helped guide the project over the past couple years, announced to county commissioners last night that Polk now has the approximately $1 million it needs to move forward. Work to create the park could begin this summer, and the park may be open next year for regular visitation.

The grant from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) helps the county and local preservationists realize a goal established a few years ago.

In 2005 Tryon Arts and Crafts (TAC) purchased the Alexander&squo;s Ford property to keep it from going to a developer, and made plans to use the site for a cultural and historical center.

After later dropping plans for the center, TAC decided to sell the land and sought a buyer who would preserve the property. Polk County commissioners agreed to buy the land, but were not sure how fast they could raise the&bsp; funds. So in 2006 the board for the Marjorie M. & Lawrence R. Bradley Endowment Fund stepped forward and agreed to purchase the land to make sure it would be permanently preserved.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the Bradley&squo;s home, known as &dquo;Puddin&squo; Hill,&dquo; was used to purchase the Alexander&squo;s Ford property. Bradley Fund board members said the Bradleys would have been pleased to see the collaborative project that benefits the community through the purchase and preservation of a historic tract of land. The Bradley Fund not only purchased the land but established permanent easements and agreed to turn over ownership to the county when it raised enough money.

The county will use about $236,000 of the state grant to complete the purchase of the property, which will cost about $736,000. The county previously received a $240,000 grant for the project from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, a $200,000 grant from the Natural Heritage Trust Fund and about $60,000 from local contributions. The two grants received earlier were used to provide the matching funds needed for the state PARTF grant.

&dquo;This was the third leg of the stool,&dquo; said Polk County Economic Development Director Kipp McIntyre, referring to the state grant. &dquo;Everyone&squo;s pleased. We started this over a year ago.&dquo;

The remaining approximately $264,000 from the state grant will be used for enhancements to create the nature preserve and park. The money has been designated for the construction of a visitor orientation kiosk, a 288-square-foot restroom facility and parking area, two rustic picnic sheds, a total of 14,600 linear feet of walking trails, an earthen outlook, four interpretive signs, six picnic tables, a bicycle rack, eight trash receptacles, and three benches.

McIntyre says the county likely can finalize acquisition of the property this summer after receiving the grant funds from the state. He says archaeological work to identify culturally sensitive areas will follow, along with the enhancements to create the park.

&dquo;With the Overmountain Men Victory Trail Association coming through in October for a special event, we would like to get as much done this summer as we can,&dquo; says McIntyre.

The Alexander&squo;s Ford property, located off County Line Road near Grays Chapel Methodist Church, includes the historic trail and campsite used by the Overmountain Men en route to a key victory in the Revolutionary War. The U.S. National Park Service has already identified the Alexander&squo;s Ford property as a potential national park site.

The property includes the site of the Overmountain Men patriot militia encampment and one mile of the Overmountain Men Victory Trail that ended at the Battle of Kings Mountain 1780. The trail runs from Abingdon, Va., and Elkin to Kings Mountain and draws many visitors each year.

The Polk County land includes a key section of the trail. The Overmountain Men camped at Alexander&squo;s Ford on the night&bsp; of October 4, 1780. The next morning, a messenger rode into camp to tell the Patriots that the Loyalists had changed direction and were headed to Charlotte. The militia turned, met the British at Kings Mountain, and won a battle there that Thomas Jefferson declared &dquo;turned the tide&dquo; in the American Revolutionary War.

Look for more coverage on the purchase of the historic land in Wednesday&squo;s Bulletin.