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With an up or down vote Tuesday on a $2 billion state bond package, conservation groups have been encouraging members to get out in support, citing a number of projects slated for the western region.

The bond package is a mix of capital spending for universities and community colleges, agricultural research, higher education, local water and sewer projects and state parks and attractions. It includes $75 million for parks throughout the state, with almost $13 million earmarked for western mountain parks and natural areas.

State parks spokesman Charlie Peek said from the beginning, the intent was to spread the bond money throughout the state with a project in every park.

“We have 41 parks and 45 projects,” Peek said in a recent interview. “We tried to get as broad a brush with this as possible.”

David Pearson, president of the Friends of State Parks, which worked together with the state and local stakeholders to develop and promote the list of projects, said most parks and natural areas already had a working list of priorities.

One of the main criteria for the picking projects, Pearson said, was that they couldn’t be temporary. “They had to have an economic life cycle that would outlive the payback for the bond,” he said.

In some cases that meant building or expanding visitor centers to meet a longtime goal of a visitor center in every park. Other parks will see a buildout of camping facilities with additional RV-friendly spaces.

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In the state’s western region, several parks and natural areas will be able to use bond funds for land acquisition.

Pearson said, a strategy has the biggest long term impact. “Once something is public land it stays public land,” he said. “We’re in the forever business.”

Carl Silverstein, executive director of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, said the organization has encouraged its members to support the bond because of the opportunities for expanding several natural areas.

The plan earmarks $2,250,000 for land acquisition at Yellow Mountain State Natural Area in Avery and Mitchell counties, one of conservancy’s long-term priorities.

“We’re really hopeful it will pass,” Silverstein said of the bond. “It’ll be a big boost to help the state acquire more of the land at Yellow Mountain. It’ll be a great asset for future generations.”

Silverstein said the conservancy and the state have worked with land owners to purchase property, since 2008, but that occasional state budget shortfalls have slowed the process. The conservancy is working with other willing landowners in the area, he said, and expects to be able to move forward if the bond funds are in place.

Water projects included

Local governments and clean water organizations are also backing the bond because of roughly $309 million in funds for local water and sewer projects.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, said the additional funds were allocated so that local governments can move ahead with repairs for failing water and sewer systems.

“We’re behind in getting them funded,” McGrady said. “Local governments aren’t capable of doing that and the state recognizes that it’s going to affect water quality across the state unless we start putting money into them, making loans and grants available.”

The bond plan targets $100 million for water and sewer infrastructure grants and $209.5 million in a revolving loan program for clean water infrastructure.

Local governments would apply for the loans through through the state’s Clean Water and Drinking Water programs.

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  • Beech Creek Bog State Natural Area, Watauga County — $600,00 for land acquisition
  • Chimney Rock, Rutherford County — $1,500,000 for trail system development and improvements
  • Elk Knob, Watauga County — $900,000 for land acquisitions
  • Gorges State Park, Transylvania County — $2,505,750 for a new campground and bathhouse
  • Grandfather Mountain State Park, Watauga County — $1,501,500 for a trailhead, parking area and ranger contact station
  • Lake James State Park, Burke and McDowell counties — $3,021,000 for a new visitor and exhibition center
  • Yellow Mountain Natural Area, Mitchell and Avery counties — $2,250,000 to assist in land acquisition
  • Mount Mitchell State Park, Yancey County — $600,000 for improvements to visitor facilities at the summit area

Kirk Ross

Based in the Triangle, Kirk Ross is the capital bureau chief for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at kross@carolinapublicpress.org.

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