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Ahoskie park expands

AHOSKIE – What goes around comes around.

That wise old saying sprang to life here Tuesday afternoon where Town of Ahoskie officials formally broke ground on the final part of phase one of the Ahoskie Creek Recreational Complex.

Set-up in an area once home to 70-plus families before the flooding rains of Hurricane Floyd in 1999, the grounds will again serve a purpose – this time for the enjoyment of those seeking recreational and leisure opportunities.

The current construction stage of the complex, priced at $1.6 million, includes three baseball/softball fields, a concession stand (complete with restroom facilities), a playground and a picnic shelter. That area, scheduled for completion in September, is located at the western end of Memorial Drive.

While Tuesday’s event was a happy one, many of those who spoke prior to the groundbreaking made reference to the past history of the former residential neighborhood.

“As we gather here today just 10 days following the anniversary of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we are witnessing the resurrection of an area once filled with joy and happiness,” said Rev. Richard Rice of Ahoskie’s First Presbyterian Church who gave the invocation.

Rev. Rice went on to say that cheers of encouraging youngsters on the ball fields will replace the tears shed here following the devastation of Hurricane Floyd.

“I’ve always been touched by this property,” remarked Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn during her comments. “I had friends who lived here. I saw their lives forever changed by the events of September 15, 1999 (the arrival of Hurricane Floyd in northeastern North Carolina).

“That’s why it is so important to honor those who once lived here,” the Mayor continued. “We are bringing back life here; bringing back family activities and laughter to this area.”

Ahoskie Town Council members Malcolm Copeland and Elaine Myers each made comments during the 45-minute ceremony.

“What we see here today is a great fruition of many years of planning,” Copeland noted. “This is our dream come true, not only for the enjoyment by the citizens of Ahoskie, but of those in Hertford County as well as the surrounding areas.”

“When I see dirt being turned it’s like putting legs to a vision,” Myers said.

Referencing the sad time in Ahoskie’s history due to the devastation of Hurricane Floyd, Myers remarked, “Sometimes life gives you lemons and you learn to make lemonade.”

Former Ahoskie Town Councilman Ronald Gatling, among those who were at the forefront of the planning process for the park, asked everyone gathered at the groundbreaking ceremony to join hands for a moment of silence.

“There were people here who lost their homes, lost their livelihoods; we need to pay tribute to them,” Gatling said.

He continued, “We did this to better our community. This will be a place where a senior citizen can come and enjoy a leisurely walk; a place where a family can enjoy a picnic; a place where children can play; and all can enjoy a special place without ever leaving Ahoskie or Hertford County.”

Dan Boone of the Wooten Company, the town’s engineering firm, gave a brief history of how the recreational complex came about.

“The town began looking for ways to use the property after it came into their possession following the FEMA buy-out from Hurricane Floyd,” Boone noted. “The town saw a need for a park and in 2005 worked with ECU (East Carolina University) to develop plans and design for a park. The master plan was completed in 2007.”

From that point forward, Boone said the town was able to secure a CAMA (Coastal Area Management Act) grant to purchase additional property for the park that wasn’t part of the FEMA buy-out. Another grant from CAMA plus $500,000 from the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund as well as money committed from the town’s coffers has moved the project to its current point.

Also making comments at the ceremony were Hertford County Board of Commissioners Chairman Johnnie Ray Farmer, Betty Jo Shepherd, representing U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), and Joyce Mitchell, representing U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC).

Earlier construction on the complex included soccer fields and the amphitheater. Phase two of the complex calls for a walking trail, splash (water) park, dog park and a parking lot.