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Private becomes public

WINTON – In a unanimous vote here Monday night, the Hertford County Board of Commissioners approved a lease agreement between the county and the community based, non-profit Hobson R. Reynolds Elks National Shrine Inc.

The agreement will allow Hertford County citizens to use 14.69 acres of land at the Elks National Shrine for public recreational use. The national headquarters for the Elks National Shrine, also known as the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World Inc., is located on NC 45 (Cofield Road) in Winton.

“It’s a wonderful project. It’s an opportunity for Hertford County to add recreational amenities in the community,” said Hertford County Manager Loria Williams. “In rural eastern North Carolina, we as local government don’t always have the finances to provide the amount of recreation that you find in larger cities.”

“We really need county-wide recreation. It will give the people, young and old, a place to go,” said Howard J. Hunter III, chairman of the commissioners. “The recreation complex is a great way to help people with exercising.”

The lease agreement comes at a “bargain basement” price – $1 per year. Williams said in order for the county to apply for State Parks & Recreation Trust Fund grant money, the lease must be stretched out over a minimum of 25 years. If both parties agree, the lease can be renewed after that first 25 years,

According to Williams, the county and its citizens have been brainstorming for four months about which recreational facilities to build on the land. Local government surveys and community meetings collectively thought of ways to use the land. The most recent community meeting was held on December 2 at the National Elks Shrine.

The groups planned two phases of the construction for the recreation facilities. Phase one will build basketball courts, tennis courts, a multi-purpose field, a baseball field, a mini playground, a walking trail and picnic shelters.

Phase two of the construction will include renovation of the pool house and the pool that’s currently on-site.

“All of these ideas are subject to the board’s approval in January,” explained Williams.

The money will come from the State Parks & Recreation Trust Fund as well as $250,000 in Golden LEAF grant funding received by the county earlier this year. Williams said $50,000 of the Golden LEAF money has already been used to develop a comprehensive plan for the county’s recreational complex at the Elks Shrine.

“We’re not planning to have any out-of-pocket expenses for phase one of the project,” Williams said as she referenced $500,000 the county is applying for in Parks & Recreation Trust Fund money. “We’re also looking to apply for state and federal grants for hiking trails at the recreation complex.”

She added that the county has a Jan. 31, 2009 deadline to apply for the Parks & Recreation Trust Fund grant.

On the other side of this unique private-public partnership, Dr. Donald P. Wilson, Director of the Elks National Shrine, expressed his pleasure over the deal.

“We are very ecstatic, very happy,” Dr. Wilson said. “We’re trying to expand 57 acres of land here.”

The Elks National Shrine first broke ground in 1966. Wilson joined the Improved Benevolent Effective Order Of Elks of the World in 1952.

“It’s a great community group. I love it,” said Wilson.

“The Elks National Shrine has a long standing history. It’s a community based organization that has done great things,” said Williams. “For us as the government to partner with a private group to meet the needs of the citizens is something we should strive to do.”

Planners will present a comprehensive plan to recommend what additional recreational facilities should be added within the county. That presentation will be given during a January 5 meeting of the board of commissioners. The board will also have the opportunity to vote on the two phases of construction of the recreational usage of the land.

“It’s an opportunity for public and private organizations to come together to improve Hertford County’s community,” Williams expressed. “It’s truly a win-win situation.”