By Beth Lawrence
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners is making moves to further Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor’s efforts to bring a river park to Cullowhee.
At a Jan. 14 work session, several members of CuRvE presented commissioners with their plans for the park at the work session.
Anna Fariello, president of CuRvE, spoke about the possible impacts the endeavor could have on Cullowhee and the county and requested commissioners acquire two tracts of land from Western Carolina University and the N.C. Department of Transportation.
DOT obtained much of the property in the area to construct the new Tuckaseigee River bridge.
CuRvE has already reached out to the two entities about obtaining the land.
“They are onboard with the concept of a river park, and they both stand ready to work with CuRvE and Jackson County toward the development of this in the very near future,” Fariello said.
CuRvE believes the river park could be the impetus for revitalizing the entire area. Fariello told the board that the park would keep local spending dollars in Jackson County. According to their research, residents looking for water fun currently go elsewhere taking their money with them.
The site would also bring in tourist dollars.
CuRvE commissioned an economic impact study which estimated the development would initially bring in $1.2 million of new spending a year and add 16 jobs. The site could also produce $145,000 in annual taxes.
Commissioners supported the idea of another recreation area in the county and the benefits it could have.
“This has been the less attractive part of Cullowhee for many years and this could really change, not just the look but the economics,” Commissioner Gayle Woody said.
There was a consensus among board members to look into obtaining the two pieces of property and perhaps purchasing two privately owned parcels in the area.
“I know there’s been other properties mentioned here that would be impacted that ultimately would enhance the overall concept of the park, but for the immediate short term to be able just to get something started to sort of be a catalyst … we would need to maybe go ahead and acquire those two governmental properties from DOT and Western Carolina,” McMahan said. “If they’re willing to participate it seems like an easy first two steps to make, but is this board willing to instruct staff to move forward with that?”
County agents will reach out to the two and bring information back to the board for a vote.
CuRvE began their efforts to create a park on the Tuckaseigee River in 2008. The park will encompass pedestrian use and water recreation.
Space beneath the bridge is set aside for footpaths that will connect with the greenway once the greenway is complete.
CuRvE hired water park designer Scott Shipley of Colorado. Shipley’s firm S2o, designed the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.
The design consists of a series of drop structures generating whitewater sections where kayakers, boaters and river surfers might enjoy the water.
Plans were created for the river both with and without the Cullowhee dam.
CuRvE had been waiting on a final decision regarding removal of the dam, but decided that the project could be done in phases.
If the dam is removed, it is possible that American Rivers, the nonprofit leading the effort to demolish it, could receive grant money, some of which could be used toward work on the park.
Fariello said CuRvE is exploring other sources of funding that could be used for the riverside park facilities.
Commissioner Boyce Deitz expressed concern about how future flooding might impact the site, mentioning that the former bridge had washed out during the 1940 flood.
Past flooding and issues that make the area vulnerable to flooding were considered and addressed in the engineering study, CuRvE board member Maurice Phipps said.
Commissioners did not set a timeline for staff to return with information.