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Swain County buys property to create fairgrounds

Swain County buys property to create fairgrounds

With the purchase of 8 acres in Bryson City, Swain County will now have an outdoor event area to host county fairs, kids carnivals and more. 

Swain County commissioners held a public hearing last week regarding the land purchase — among other items — to receive public input before making a decision. But because the event center project had not been brought up in public session prior to the Aug. 25 meeting, members of the audience were a bit confused as to the need for the land purchase.

“I was going to comment after I find out what all this means,” said resident Joe Hayes.

County Manager Kevin King then explained that the 8 acres being purchased were located near Inspiration Park on Hyatt Creek Road and would be used for county events. He said the project has been on the commissioners’ priority list for several years and the right opportunity finally came along to purchase property. 

“We’ve never had a place to have a county fair or carnival rides,” said Commission Chairman Phil Carson. “This board looked at a part of the old airport property but the price tag was too high.”

The county approved borrowing $425,000 to complete several projects — $300,000 for the fairgrounds property, $25,000 to construct a stage on the property and the other $100,000 will go toward constructing a fly-fishing museum close to the river on Island Street in Bryson City. 

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King said Swain County tax revenue would not be used to purchase or maintain the event property. The Swain County Tourism Development Authority will be responsible for making the $52,000 annual payment using occupancy tax revenue. The TDA will also be responsible for booking and marketing the venue, though King said all the details have yet to be worked out between the county and the TDA board. 

After being located in Cherokee for a year, the Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians decided last month to make the move to Bryson City. With the threat of losing its lease with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians tribal government, the museum organizers decided to take an offer to relocate the exhibits from the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce to the Swain County Chamber of Commerce building. 

The new museum space isn’t even open yet but has already received approval for an expansion. The county already owns the riverfront land where the 1,000-square-foot facility will be built. Given the chamber’s location right across from the Swain County Heritage Museum and that Bryson City was recently named a designated Trout City, the location is ideal for the fly-fishing museum. 

Alen Baker, the driving force behind establishing the fly-fishing museum, said details regarding what the final project will look like were still being worked out with the county as he works on a draft design of the building’s interior. 

“The basic idea is to build a building on the river with museum exhibits and an aquarium for various mountain species of fish,” he said. “It will also serve as a center for a trout classroom education program sponsored by Trout Unlimited where students can learn about the life cycle of trout by catching and releasing them.”

Baker has a tentative commitment for a $25,000 matching grant to help outfit the new facility with the aquariums and new exhibits. He hopes the new facility will help create more foot traffic between the two museums and provide more family and kid-oriented attractions for Bryson City. 

“I think having an aquarium will create more family appeal,” he said. “Even if people aren’t into fly-fishing they might visit the aquarium and then want to go to more museums. Hopefully we can create an environment where people want to stay for several days.”

Progress is being made in moving the existing exhibits to the new space at the chamber office. With a few adjustments, Baker said he’s been able to relocate all the exhibits even though it’s about 30 percent less space. The grand reopening is scheduled to coincide with the induction of the first-ever honorees in the Museum Hall of Fame on Sept. 24.

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