MERRY HILL – It’s the perfect way to offer up a hot summer’s day.
That’s what Bertie County officials are hoping when they invite everyone from miles around – and then some – to come and participate in Bertie Beach Day off Bal Gra Road (NC RR-1501) in the Merry Hill community right where the Chowan River spills into the Albemarle Sound. The nearest landmarks to Bal Gra Road are Black Rock Deli and Oxley Hill Baptist Church, just off US-17 heading toward the Chowan River Bridge.
The event is slated for Saturday, June 29 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Referred to locally as “Tall Glass of Water” (TGOW)” until a more permanent name and logo can be selected, the site’s most stunning feature is its 2,200 linear feet of sand beach and shallow calm waters that overwatch impressive sand bluffs overlooking the waterway.
“Just bring a blanket, sunscreen, and a folding chair” read the flyers that have been distributed across the county and online.
The purchase of this 137-acre site was made possible by the Bertie County’s Board of Commissioners and the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.
“(TGOW) beach-front property is a great investment for the future of Bertie County,” said Commissioners chair John Trent, who along with then-vice chairman Ernestine Bazemore helped spearhead the project. “Our county has a world class water system that our citizens can enjoy while stimulating our economy through eco-tourism. It was the right decision at the right time.
“I’ve had great response, and plenty from places outside Bertie County,” Trent noted. “We want everyone to be dressed very casual, and if they’d like to go into the water.”
The county’s investment in TGOW will be the first public beach access to recreational waters, unlike anywhere else in the northeastern North Carolina region.
“The overall purpose is to one day provide public access to the Albemarle Sound waterway, support the responsible promotion of local assets, incubate small business development, foster tourism, and generally improve the quality of life for Bertie County residents,” Trent added.
Once the vision is fully realized, opportunities for Bertie residents will include swimming, canoeing & kayaking, hiking, camping, and environmental education field experiences for students and adults.
And Saturday is just the start.
“As the prior Chairman when we voted to pursue the ownership of this property, I remain excited about the future potential of this property being a true destination; a reason to come to beautiful Bertie County,” said Commissioner Ron Wesson.
“Bertie Beach can best be described as ‘A Place Where History Meets Adventure.’ Our proud history will be forever on display in an adventure wonderland that will belong to the citizens of Bertie County,” he elaborated.
Commissioner Tammy Lee quoted one of her constituents, Clint Conner of Aulander.
“I particularly like the “Tall Glass of Water” initiative,” Conner said. “It will definitely lead to more people coming to vacation in Bertie. Our county has potential, and I think that it wasn’t utilized until recent years. I see that our county will improve in coming years.”
In addition to kayaking, swimming, and fishing, there will be a free fish fry and free hot dogs held at the site from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“If people have questions, this will also be a great time for the public to learn about future plans for the public access recreation park,” said County Manager Scott Sauer. “Some 20,000 people have visited the county website looking for information.”
County Emergency Services director Mitch Cooper along with Sheriff John Holley and the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office have put together a safety plan, which Cooper reviewed at the Commissioner’s meeting on June 18.
“We’ve decided to use the primary entrance off Bal Gra,” Cooper stated. “Assistance with crowd control and traffic will be with help from the Midway-Merry Hill Volunteer Fire Department. We’re estimating 1,000 people, so that could be about 250-300 cars; with such a huge operation we know we’ll have to be busing people in and out.”
Cooper says county Parks & Recreation director Donna Mizelle will have P&R personnel also available to assist. A set of all-terrain vehicles (ATV’s) will be on hand for seniors and others who desire not to walk a great distance.
“In addition to the vendors, there’s going to be face-painting, an obstacle course, water station, food service assistance from the Windsor-Bertie YMCA,” Cooper acknowledged. “And there will be a 5,400 square feet tent set up.
“And we will have shelter fans,” he added.
Coverage, he noted, will be provided on the water as well as off the water.
“Hopefully, we’ll have at least one Sheriff’s Department boat on hand,” he said.
Sauer said many Choanoke Area Development Association (CADA) workers, who offered assistance to the county during Hurricane Florence in 2016, have signed up as volunteers for this project; and there is even a financial incentive ($150) for any county workers who volunteer to give up their Saturday to help out.
“Those funds will come from the county’s Strategic Initiative Project, which is overseen by Steve Biggs and the county’s Economic Development,” said Sauer. “The big number is the food, the tents, all of which is a turn-key project for Abram’s – who will also provide a slide for the kids and they will take care of clean-up. They were just the ones who were most prepared for this sort of project.
“We’ve had children and churches from outside Bertie County who’ve called and asked if they would be welcome, and we’ve said, ‘yes, of course,’” said Sauer. “We’re hosting it for county residents, but it’s for everyone.”
“When you think about in the beginning, when we were purchasing, we received a lot of flak from people,” reminded Bazemore. “Now I think the community is really, finally, excited about it.”
“Just don’t forget your bug spray,” Sauer warned.