Saluda asked to own proposed Bell Park

Published 7:36 am Tuesday, October 22, 2013

by Leah Justice
Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy asked the City of Saluda to apply for a N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) grant to obtain and improve property for a proposed Bell Park just outside city limits.
Kieran Roe, executive director of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, attended the city’s Oct. 14 meeting to make the request. Roe said the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy is working on a park project of 68 acres below the high bridge, a little over a mile from Saluda.
Roe said the land conservancy has been working with the land owner for years, who is interested in selling below market rate as long as the land is for public use. The park would be located near the Green River and is adjacent to Duke Power owned land and to the Green River Gamelands.
Roe said the proposed park has several destinations that would draw visitors along the network of trails, including the river, cascades and streams.
The plan is to have signs along the trails noting the history of the area, including the high bridge that dates to 1927, the flume constructed in the 1920s with cypress logs and the 1876 railroad, which is the steepest standard gauge track in the U.S.
The property has the Saluda grade railway crossing it and Roe said the land conservancy wants to protect the scenic views from U.S. 176 along the scenic byway.
In order to apply for the PARTF grant it has to be done by a local government, Roe told Saluda commissioners and although Henderson County is interested, the county has other projects it is currently applying for the same funds.
Saluda commissioner George Sweet said he doesn’t want to be discouraging but Saluda also has other projects it is considering applying for a PARTF grant so could have the same problem as Henderson County.
“It’s still a possibility but don’t get your hopes up too high,” Sweet told Roe.
Other concerns from Saluda commissioners were that the land is located in Henderson County and if Saluda applied for the grant it would be the land owner of the park.
Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden said he would like for Roe to check with Henderson County first to see if they would allow Saluda to own land there. Baisden said Saluda was once interested in buying a water system in Henderson County and county commissioners wouldn’t allow it.
Other concerns were over maintaining the park if Saluda was the title holder.
Betsy Burdett, with Saluda Community Land Trust, said the city could lease the property like the Town of Tryon leases its land along the Pacolet River to the Saluda Community Land Trust.
Saluda Attorney Bailey Nager said that could be done; if the city is the owner it can lease the property to an operator.
The grant is due Jan. 30, 2014 with Roe saying the land conservancy would like to make next year’s deadline.
Carolina Mountain Land Trust would write the grant and Saluda would sign off on it if commissioners want to participate in the park.
Roe said the name Bell Park was suggested by one of the current land owners to honor the history of the Bell family at Lake Summit.

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