Family wants removed memorial plaque from state park returned in memory of parents

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Four siblings from Florida are petitioning the state to have a plaque honoring their parent remounted on Eagle Rock in the Broad River community.

Steve and Rendy McKnelly died March 16 after fire engulfed their secluded mountain cabin in the community south of Black Mountain.

The Jacksonville, Florida couple, who enjoyed frequent vacations to the mountains, planned to retire to the area.

They left four children - Kristen, Carrie, Steven and Kyle McKnelly.

Steve and Rendy married when she was 17 and he 18 years old, Kyle and Kristen McKnelly said last week while in Black Mountain trying to get signatures for their petition (see it at goo.gl/uvQAIQ).

Steve was an artist, and Rendy an emergency room nurse.

Hiking to Eagle Rock was one of the first things they did when they came up from Florida on vacation, their children said.

Eagle Rock is a short trek from their cabin.

Soon after their death, the children bolted a custom-made plaque ("Steve + Rendy Forever RIP," it says) on Eagle Rock.

State park officials removed the plaque because Eagle Rock is located within Chimney Rock State Park.

The family is gathering signatures on a petitioning the state of North Carolina to allow them to remount the plaque on Eagle Rock, one of their parents' favorite places in the world.

The children have already met with the Chimney Rock State Park superintendent James Ledgerwood.

He told the McKnelly children that they had defaced Eagle Rock by drilling holes to secure the plaque.

He advised them to get a $35 special activities permit that will allow them to spread their parents' ashes in the park.

Karen Johnson, a Chimney Rock State Park office assistant, returned the plaque to the siblings.

She said she told them the state keeps the park in its natural state so that it will look the same from generation after generation.

"If we allow one family to put up a plaque, we have to allow everyone else to do the same," Johnson said.

"We keep it functional, and no memorial plaques are allowed," she said.

The petition that the McKnelly children are circulating notes that their parents planned to retire to their small cabin in the next few years.

"They shared many picnics and sunsets overlooking the mountains together on top of this rock," the petition states.

"We released their ashes from this rock, and so we request that their memorial be remounted in their honor," the petition says.

"Having the plaque mounted to Eagle Rock to remember our parents means a lot to us," Kyle McKnelly said during an interview.

"This is our place where we came many times and vacationed as a family," he said. "(It) was their favorite spot."

"My parents didn't want the traditional funeral and burial," Kristin McKnelly said.

The plaque is definitely a family affair. It was made by their father's nephew, Eric Whitley.

Kristen said there is comfort in knowing that her parents died together.

"Theirs was the love story that everyone strives to have," she said.

"You can't imagine one without the other."

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