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Recreation node added along the Tuck, this time down Whittier’s way

Jackson County will soon get a new park at Barkers Creek.

County commissioners approved a lease this week for a roughly 3-acre riverside site owned by Duke Energy for the bargain rate of $10 a year. It adds to a growing network of boat launched, put-ins, and recreation parks dotting the length of the Tuckasegee River in Jackson County.

The property sits along U.S. 74 in the Whittier area, along a stretch known as the Tuckasegee Gorge. It already has a boat put-in and small parking lot, but Jackson County plans to make it an even better place to hang out. 

“We believe this site is a great location on the Tuckasegee River and would provide another great asset to our recreation, especially outdoor recreation, sites in Jackson County,” said County Manager Chuck Wooten. 

As part of the agreement, Duke will install a vault toilet. Meanwhile, the county will get to work making the rest of the improvements. Though plans are still being finalized, the finished park will likely include an expanded parking lot with 28 additional parking spots, six picnic tables along the river, a picnic pavilion, a footbridge over the existing rain garden inlet and a basketball half-court. A boat ramp, 30 parking spots and a rain garden already exist on-site. 

“I really do believe it will be something the community will embrace,” Wooten said. 

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He expects the county will be able to build the park amenities with money set aside in a special county recreation fund provided by Duke Energy, which were provided under its mandatory mitigation for dams and hydropower operations, though some local funds may need to supplement.

Duke will still capture ad revenue from the two billboards on the site, which will remain — Wooten said Duke has promised him they would not allow any advertisers there who whose ads would embarrass the county — but they will also continue to pay tax on the property. 

“We’re trying to get some bids now,” Wooten said. “Hopefully within the next 30 days we can have at least some of the improvements done.”

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