'Bargain' buy to bring trails to Veterans Park

A little piece of land could have a big impact on the future of one of Black Mountain's most-used parks

Fred McCormick

When the weather is nice, there's no shortage of people at Veterans Park. Through June, the town park sees a steady flow of youth baseball and softball players, disc golfers, gardeners, runners and walkers.

By taking steps to expand the park during their monthly meeting on May 8, Black Mountain aldermen increased the town’s chances of landing a grant to make additional park improvements.

The board voted 4-0 (alderman Carlos Showers was absent) to approve a $90,000 budget amendment to cover the $85,000 purchase and associated fees for 2.74 acres of land next to the park. Appraised at $160,000, the property and its value to the town is multifaceted, according to town manager Matt Settlemyer.

The day before she graduates from Montreat College, Sara Gablin and Pete Guillard spend the morning last Friday walking the trails at Veterans Park.

For the second time in as many years, the town applied for an annual Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant, offered through the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation. Last year, Black Mountain wasn't among 30 state municipalities to receive the grant, which requires applicants to match 50 percent of project costs.

The acquisition of the 2.74 acres puts the town in a better position for winning a grant this year, Settlemyer said.

“For grant purposes, we get credit for the difference between the appraisal price and the purchase price,” he said. “It’s called a 'bargain sale,' and that difference in value, $75,000, serves as a credit toward our match for the project.”

The added land will be used primarily for parking, allowing the town to shift the layout of the existing park without “infringing on the existing activities there,” said Casey Conner, Black Mountain's recreation and parks director.

“It allows us to free up space in the existing park to make developments that will be beneficial,” he said. “By changing the traffic flow and parking, which is primarily what the new property will be used for, we’ll be able to build year-round restrooms, a new picnic pavilion and a playground. Without that (recently purchased) land, it would be difficult to develop all three of those things without getting in the way of an existing activity.”

Much of the 2.74-acre lot sits in a floodplain, according to Settlemyer. That makes it ideal for the town’s planned use, he said.

“We see opportunities for not only additional parking, but trails and other amenities as well,” the town manager said. Being prohibited from accommodating buildings has limited the land's use in the past, he said.

The town should learn whether it will receive the grant in September or October, Settlemyer said. “If we were to not get the grant we would still get the credit next year if we re-apply,” he said.

Veterans Park is one of the town’s most used parks, attracting disc golfers at a rate of at least 500 rounds per week during the peak season, according to Conner. The baseball fields serve as the home of the Owen Babe Ruth League. With 70 paying members, the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden grows 3,000 pounds of food annually. The Grey Eagle Arena is hosts a busy indoor soccer schedule through the winter months.

A master plan for the park was improved in October 2016. The plan took into consideration “around 100 people” who attended a series of public meetings to tell Conner what they and the community want at the 27-acre facility.

"If you consider all of the visitors that use the facilities there, like the indoor arena, the baseball fields, the community garden, the disc golf course," Conner said, "it’s probably even more attended than Lake Tomahawk,” the town's other large park.