WINDSOR – Bertie County will be getting a new boat ramp and fishing pier when a new facility near Lewiston on the Roanoke River is dedicated next month.
Now it appears the county may be getting two such facilities.
At their meeting on Monday the Bertie County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to acquire 137 acres of land on the Albemarle Sound at a cost of $1,250,000. The land will be used to secure public water access for recreation and tourism.
The property is located off US 17 just east of what is commonly referred to as the Bell property west of Bal-Gra Road.
The Commissioners also approved a budget amendment that called for transferring $855,000 from the county’s cash reserves to the General Fund as re-payment of startup loans from the 1990’s, with the remaining $395,000 coming from the County’s General Fund.
“It is this Board’s firm expectation that this acquisition will not negatively impact our county’s tax rates,” said Commission chairman Ronald D. “Ron” Wesson in a statement.
“This is a cash transaction, with no additional debt for the county,” said Commissioner John Trent later. “This demonstrates what can be accomplished with good fiscal management.”
Future plans for the site may include a visitors center for hosting outdoor performing arts, and that the property will serve as an educational venue for the natural sciences and historical exploration along the site’s 2,200 linear feet of coastal waters on the ‘Inner Banks’ of North Carolina on the Albemarle Sound.
County Economic Development Director Steve Biggs presented a map of the area being purchased as well as a visual slideshow presentation showcasing the area: a combination of sandy Sound-front, farmland, and timberlands.
“We’re hoping to get several grant opportunities such as the North Carolina Park and Recreation Trust Fund,” reported Biggs. “This should provide additional funds to develop this site in coming years.”
“Beginning in early 2013, the Board of Commissioners identified four strategic business clusters: agribusiness, bio-mass and energy, adventure tourism and waterfront development as areas of focus for the county’s economic development efforts”, Wesson’s statement read. “As initially envisioned, Bertie County’s ‘adventure tourism’ efforts would capitalize on natural and wildlife resources for activities such as hunting, fishing, bird watching and eco-tourism activities such as hiking and canoeing.”
Wesson cited a personal story of a childhood fascination with the waters of Bertie County, but how there was limited access to these areas for various reasons.
“Even today, this story is far from unique,” he continued. “But the actions of this Board will open up one of this county’s most cherished assets to all her citizens and guests alike. Providing public access to the county’s eastern boundary waters of the Chowan River and Albemarle Sound has been one of our top priorities for several years. Developing paddle trails and access to natural resources is a growing trend in Bertie County as evidenced by the Town of Windsor’s construction of multiple waterway access sites, and establishing camping platforms along the Cashie River.”
Several Windsor officials, including Town Manager Allen Castelloe, were present at the board meeting for the announcement.
Wesson’s release said Bertie County feels it has a unique opportunity to build on its location as a gateway to the Outer Banks by offering experiences in the realm of historical, natural resources and eco-tourism.
Commissioner Stewart White pointed to recent archeological findings, possibly from the noted Lost Colony on Roanoke Island in areas around Merry Hill. That’s a location where ceramics and other material of European origin, that might have come from Roanoke’s colonists, were found.
“Interest in the story of the Lost Colony and the archeological activity in Bertie County are really growing,” White said.
He pointed to articles in national periodicals describing British researchers’ examination of historic coastal maps that have indicated a spot on the western end of the Sound near the outlets of the Chowan River and Salmon Creek in Bertie County.
Commission Vice-chair Tammy Lee was absent from the meeting, but had made the Board’s vote unanimous when it was presented in closed session. Lee currently serves on the board of a regional initiative designed to partner with other local governments on a regional basis to promote eco-tourism, and other recreational activities for visitors to northeastern North Carolina, which is described as ‘balancing nature and commerce’.
Commissioner Ernestine Byrd Bazemore told the audience that government alone should not be behind this project.
“The county needs your input,” Bazemore said. “We want to hear from you and to understand your interest and your ideas in seeing this (project) develop,”
Wesson said in the coming weeks the Commissioners will look to engage a planning consultant to assist with development of a vision for the ultimate build out for this property to include road access, parking, restroom and picnic facilities in the first phase. Other potential amenities may include an outdoor performance stage on the waterfront, a heritage tourism and Lost Colony visitor education center in the second phase.
“The possibilities are unlimited,” Wesson said, referring to swimming for children, adventure programming, hosting corporate outings, family reunions, and church events that might include even baptisms in the shallow sandy waters on the Albemarle shoreline.
“Educational field trips for school children, a vacation spot for local families and hosting visitors from across the state and region are also possible with this investment, which will serve many generations into the future,” said Wesson.
Finally, the Commissioners praised the team within county administration that helped bring the project all together.
“This was a team effort with the Board of Commissioners fully engaged from the outset” noted County Manager Scott Sauer.
“The Board set high expectations for this project and everyone performed in an exceptional manner,” said Chairman Wesson.
He gave special thanks to the county’s legal team of Lloyd Smith and Jonathan Huddleston, Finance Officer William Roberson, Planning Director Traci White and especially the project leadership from Economic Developer Biggs.