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Planning to begin on massive Canton recreation parcel

Despite the reticence of some local governments to spend money on non-essential services due to uncertainty in revenues amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic, the Town of Canton and Haywood County are moving full speed ahead with development of the Chestnut Mountain project. 

“This project is not just for recreation’s sake, it’s for economics’ sake,” said Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers. “I think this is a game changer not just for the Town of Canton but Haywood County.”

Later this month, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy will close on a parcel located just east of Canton’s town limits, on 19/23 near the Buncombe County line, and gift it to the town.   

Totaling almost 450 acres, it was planned as an 8,000-seat motorsports park that never materialized, however the parcel’s acquisition by SAHC means it will soon become a substantial new addition to the county’s outdoor recreational assets. 

More than $1 million toward the purchase price was awarded to SAHC by the Clean Water Management Trust fund, so the Chestnut Mountain project will in perpetuity protect the forested tract and the nine miles of Hominy Creek that runs through it. 

Months ago, Canton put out a Request For Proposals (RFP) to outdoor recreation and planning firms that might be interested in carrying out the master plan and a trail design plan. Contracts were awarded to Western North Carolina-based planning firms Equinox and Elevated Trail Designs. 

The total cost for the plans, which will include public input at a later date, is $75,000. Canton chipped in $25,000 toward the project, and the Cruso Endowment Fund matched that. During a meeting on May 18, Haywood County commissioners voted to contribute the other $25,000 after the county’s parks and recreation advisory board gave the project the green light. 

Haywood County Project Administrator David Francis said that the town would make applications to the North Carolina Recreational Trails Program as well as the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund to implement whatever amenities appear in the Chestnut Mountain plan.

If awarded, the maximum funding from NCRTP would be $250,000 and the maximum funding from PARTF would be $350,000, meaning there’s up to $600,000 available for development. 

“To be very honest, I do think the COVID situation is going to push more people into places like Haywood County,” Smathers said. “That will bring pros and it will bring cons, but to offer that recreation amenity, that economic amenity, where people come and say,  ‘Hey I want to get dinner, I want to go shopping,’ Canton and Haywood County are sitting right there to take that opportunity.”

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