Connecting the dots

Published 8:59 am Tuesday, April 1, 2014

MURFREESBORO – As a small town with limited resources, municipal officials here are always seeking assistance from outside entities to help improve Murfreesboro.

Case-in-point is the solicitation of the Mid-East Resource Conservation and Development Council (RC&D) to aid in the development of King’s Landing, a key parcel of property along the Meherrin River recently purchased by the town.

To date, Town of Murfreesboro officials have obtained two grants for a pair of projects related to the riverfront – $30,875 from NC PARTF (Parks & Recreation Trust Fund) for renovations at River Park, and $43,680 from CAMA for a project that will construct a boardwalk from the existing fishing pier at River Park to the King’s Landing property.

Murfreesboro Town Administrator Brandon Holland is now moving forward with two additional grant requests – $31,238 to NC PARTF for phase 2 of the River Park renovations, and $78,030 to CAMA for the boardwalk project.

Holland said the town is responsible to match 10 percent of the CAMA grants, if approved. The town is required to put up a 50 percent match for the PARTF grants, but can stretch those matching funds over three annual budget cycles.

At last week’s annual Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce banquet, RC&D representatives James F. Hopf and J. David Hodges Jr. provided information on how their organization can assist Murfreesboro as the town moves forward on developing the riverfront property.

Hopf, a Greenville-based attorney, currently serves as Chairman of the Mid-East RC&D Council. He presented a slide show on other RC&D projects completed in eastern North Carolina.

“Murfreesboro has some exciting plans for development of the property along the Meherrin River and David and I are very happy that we’ve been called upon to assist the town,” said Hopf.

Those plans include the construction of the boardwalk, a project aimed at improving the pedestrian foot traffic via public access to the river from the Main Street area. It also includes the installation of a 12-vehicle graveled parking lot, construction of a camping platform for overnight accommodations, construction of a gazebo, and construction of a handicapped accessible concrete walking trail connecting the parking lot to the gazebo.

Hopf said the town’s connection to the river makes it attractive to outdoor enthusiasts.

“You can capitalize on that unique connection to the river,” he stated. “It makes you stand out compared to other towns in the area without that water access. It brings people to your town, and I feel certain your Chamber of Commerce here likes that idea.”

Hopf encouraged town officials to tap into its natural and historic resources to promote economic development. Mid-East RC&D, a non-profit organization serving five counties (Beaufort, Bertie, Hertford, Martin and Pitt), is assisting Murfreesboro in the project with planning and grant writing.

“What can the town, what can the Chamber do to capitalize on the resources here and how do we leverage that to help bring people to your town…people passing through, people stopping here as a pre-planned destination, and people ultimately wishing to settle here,” Hopf asked. “Once you answer those questions, you foster growth and drive business and fidelity here in Murfreesboro.”

As an example of how local towns can capitalize on their connection to waterways, Hopf shared a joint plan developed by municipalities along the Roanoke River – starting at Weldon and heading downstream to Williamston and Plymouth, and even tapping into Windsor on the Cashie River.

“There are people out there who want to go on birding expeditions, or fishing expeditions….there are people from all over the nation that want to come to the small towns of eastern North Carolina because they want to get out of the cities and come to places that have unique character,” Hopf said. “We take our natural resources for granted, but there are people out there that will spend a lot of money visiting unique small towns.”

In the long-term, there is a movement underway to establish a “Blueway” corridor in eastern ‘Carolina. That will be a listing of the waterways, boat businesses and natural resource based businesses.

“When we collaborate we can capitalize on our strengths and do great things….Murfreesboro is already focusing on this and I commend you for your efforts,” Hopf concluded.

Hodges, a native of Bear Grass in MartinCounty, is the Executive Director of Mid-East RC&D. His expertise is in project development and implementation, and utilizing his knowledge and experience to enhance economic initiatives and improve quality of life in North Carolina’s coastal plain region.

“The history of this area, to include the Meherrin River, runs deep,” Hodges noted. “You need to build on this history.”

He observed what the town already has in the way of access points to the river, to include one in disrepair on Fourth Street. Those existing areas can be repaired and tie into the new King’s Landing development.

One of his ideas for the new development is to make the gazebo into somewhat of a tree house observation deck overlooking the scenic Meherrin River.

As far as River Street Park, the existing grant will renovate that area.

“This area is the first that you’ll see done as far as improvements are concerned,” Hodges said. “Hopefully there will be some money left over from that grant to begin the permitting and design work for the next phase of the project.”

King’s Landing is the key piece of the development puzzle, Hodges stressed.

“This is the one that ties downtown Murfreesboro into the riverfront,” he said. “This connects your past to the present. With the help of all the entities involved, to include the town and the Historical Association, you can realize this dream of tapping into the vast natural resources along the river and benefit from the economic development that will come with that.”

Last week’s Chamber Banquet, held at John’s Seafood and Steaks, included several special recognitions. Hillary Canipe of Communities in Schools of Hertford County received the WDLZ-FM Sammy Doughtie Community Service Award. Local historical preservation proponent Caroline Stephenson was the recipient of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Front Page Award. The Murfreesboro Volunteer Fire Department earned the Chamber of Commerce Award.

The Chamber’s officers for 2014-15 are Carol Lassiter (President), Tim Flanagan (Vice President), Amy Gillus (Secretary), and Debbie Edwards (Treasurer).

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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