Maggie Valley sways vote on recreation site

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

A sudden turn of events in Haywood County’s bidding for a 22-acre tract slated for use as a park has exposed an overwhelming desire for recreation in the Jonathan Creek and Maggie Valley areas.

Haywood County commissioners had voted 3 to 2 to stop bidding on the property at a specially called July 19 meeting, citing that the required bid of $1.05 million was too high. However, commissioners convened another special meeting Aug. 2, announcing a reversal of their decision only minutes before the deadline to place an upset bid.

At the meeting, it was revealed that the Town of Maggie Valley had agreed to chip in $115,000 if the county placed another bid on the property. Since this would mean the county only had to pay $1 million — a price they had previously capped as their limit — commissioners voted 4-1 to place another bid on the Jonathan Creek tract and uphold their original resolution.

Commissioner Bill Upton dissented. Upton questioned whether enough funds were available for the purchase, and said that the funds might be better spent on the existing International Sports Complex in Canton.

The vote was not made without hesitation, especially on the part of commissioners Mary Ann Enloe and Skeeter Curtis, who had previously voted to pull out of the bidding when it exceeded $1 million. Both cited the need to look further into the property’s potential and determine how much of the land could actually be developed, since some of it sits in a flood plain. Curtis wanted to know how much more money Maggie Valley would be willing to chip in, as well as what future costs to develop the field might be.

“I’ll honor my million, but I want to know the future. We’ve got a lot of needs in Haywood County, and we need to address those,” he said.

Like Curtis, Enloe voted to go ahead and bid again on the property because she wanted to uphold the commissioners’ earlier resolution to spend up to $1 million on the land.

The county could still be outbid. The deadline for counter bids is Aug. 16, although none had been entered as of press time (Aug. 7).


A long-standing need

For a town the size of Maggie Valley, pledging more than $100,000 for anything isn’t a decision made on a whim.

Enloe, who served as mayor of Hazelwood, was acutely aware of this fact at the Aug. 2 meeting.

“It’s mighty hard for a town as small as Maggie to come up with any money,” she noted.

In the end, though, the town’s decision to contribute money toward purchase of the Jonathan Creek property was made after aldermen were bombarded with phone calls of support for the park. Through the course of the bidding process, Haywood County officials have frequently noted how nicely the property fits with the county’s master recreation plan, which calls for a major regional park in the Jonathan Creek area that is roughly the size and price of the parcel in question.

Commissioners are already envisioning the potential of the Jonathan Creek property, which they say could hold four fields and feature greenways and trout fishing.

The economic impact of a recreation complex that could potentially hold tournaments, attracting dozens of little league and traveling team players and their families, is hard to ignore.

The Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce has even gone so far as to compile an estimate for revenues that would be brought in by holding a tournament at Jonathan Creek. With out-of-county participants and spectators spending an average of $65 a piece, and a smaller number of adult participants spending $125 each, the town estimates $203,200 might be spent over a two-day softball, baseball or soccer tournament.

Stan Arrington, who coaches the girl’s traveling softball team Smokey Mountain Sting, confirmed these figures through his own experience in a speech at the meeting. Arrington’s team has just attended a tournament in Florida with 24 other teams, and he estimated his group had spent upwards of $20,000.

“If you can build a complex and build it right, you’ll have your money back in two years. (You’d be) generating so much money from hotels, restaurants, gas, T-shirts, everything,” Errington said. Plus, Arrington said teams would love to come compete in the mountains.

Residents of Jonathan Creek and Maggie Valley say they’ve always had to travel in order to play against or watch teams, and some missed out as a result. Maggie Mountaineer Crafts owner Austin Pendley is one of them.

“My children never had the experience of playing little league ball, because there were no facilities out here; no organizations out here,” he said.

Pendley added that for many parents, taking time out of a workday to cart their children to practice or a game in Waynesville or Canton is not an option.

One argument that has been made over the course of the bidding process is that Canton already has ballfields — the International Sports Complex — that could greatly benefit from county funding. Pendley doesn’t think that’s close enough, though, and sees a need for ballfields on the other side of the county.

“I heard the mayor of Canton say (the ballfields) were 10 minutes from Maggie Valley — he must have a jet plane,” Pendley quipped.

From an economic and planning standpoint, most agree a recreation park in Jonathan Creek seems like a smart investment. But it’s the more intangible benefits — like the need to meet a growing population and provide activities for young people — that drive Maggie Valley supporters to speak out.

“The Jonathan Creek area is growing by leaps and bounds with subdivisions. There’s going to be a lot of kids involved in that area that would like to have something they can call their own,” Pendley said.

Maggie Valley Planning Board member June Johnson said not only would a recreation park accommodate growth, it would also provide out-of-towners with a place to take children.

“We have become a one-pony show with Ghost Town — there’s nothing else to keep the younger families here other than for a day. I want very much when my grandchildren are visiting from Charlotte, Raleigh and Atlanta to have a park for them to play in, and one that has age appropriate things,” Johnson said. “If we don’t get (the land) for recreation, then we’re going to lose it to still further housing developments.”

Johnson said the Maggie Valley area desperately needs other kinds of family oriented recreation, such as a waterpark or a Fun Factory like the one in Asheville or Franklin.


Convincing commissioners

In addition to Maggie Valley’s contribution, there may be alternative routes to securing funding for the Jonathan Creek property.

Haywood County Parks and Recreation Director Claire Stewart said the county can obtain grants through the state and private organizations to help fund recreation.

For example, the Parks and Recreation State Trust Fund provides up to $500,000, with dollar for dollar matching, for acquisition and development of recreation property. The North Carolina Trails Program and Land and Water Conservation Fund have two similar grants.

“By the time you get all the grants from Raleigh for recreation, the county won’t be out but $400,000 on 22 acres of land,” said Arrington. Arrington doesn’t think the county would have to pay a full $1 million if it would only look into various grants.

Grants are one way the public is trying to convince county commissioners that obtaining the Jonathan Creek property isn’t too lofty of a goal. At the same time, Maggie Valley town officials are attempting to deter other developers by calling into question whether the town would be able to provide adequate sewer and water services for a larger development on the property.

“The town had made a number of commitments to different places in Maggie Valley to provide sewer capacity,” said Town Manager Tim Barth. With the town already providing sewer and water to places like Ghost Town, the Maggie Valley Resort, the country club and the Trinity Cove development, its resources are already stretched.

“We have to make sure that we have enough capacity in our treatment plan to handle those places as well as others in town that we’ve promised sewer capacity to,” Barth said. “Only after we’ve made sure we have enough capacity can we go outside and provide service to other places that are requesting it. We don’t have a lot of excess capacity that we can just give out freely.”

In contrast, a recreation park probably wouldn’t put an enormous demand on the town’s services. Barth said such a facility would have likely have a few restrooms and a concession stand, and those things won’t be in constant use.

“That doesn’t put a big load on our treatment plant. I think the town’s pretty confident it can provide service” to a recreation park, said Barth.

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