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Pictured is one of the trails on the property.

Six hundred and sixty acres of land that sits in the community of Oak Hill is the possible location of a new community park and forest.

Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, which is based in Morganton, contracted with a land resources firm to put a hold on the land that has the opportunity to become the Oak Hill Community Park and Forest.

The land is located right off N.C. 181 and near N.C. 126 and will have various amenities that the public will be able to use if the park becomes a reality.

FCNC is in the process of raising funds to help pay for the land that will cost a total of $ 3 million.

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Pictured is an agricultural field on the property.

The situation is similar to the Valdese Lakeside Park. The same company owns the land the t own of Valdese is trying to turn into a park as well.

The conservancy is trying to save the land from being subdivided by a land resources firm, which will either sell, timber the land or whatever could maximize the profit, said Andrew Kota, executive director of Foothills Conservancy .

“I would drive past (there) every day taking my kids to Table Rock Middle School and Oak Hill Elementary School in the morning and we knew about this property for several years, but it never occurred to us that here is an opportunity to protect a parcel of land really close to Morganton that benefits the community here,” he said.

The property is protected for now under an agreement between FCNC and the land resources firm , which says that they will not sell the land if FCNC will raise a total of $580,800 by May 31.

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Pictured is a creek that is on the 660-acres of land Foothills Conservancy is trying to acquire.

As of May 16, the conservancy has received $516,000 in pledges to the project,” Kota said in an email. “Of that $516,000, Foothills Conservancy's board of directors has approved $100,000 of the conservancy's funds toward the project.”

There are several benchmarks that the conservancy will have to reach by this fall in order to show that they are making progress in raising money for the project.

They have submitted grant applications and will be seeking out those organizations and individuals who may be able to donate larger amounts toward the project. Later on this year, they may look into having community fundraisers once they have passed a few of the fundraising benchmarks.

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Here is an aerial view of the property located in the Oak Hill area.

Some of the components of the proposed community park and forest will be outdoor education, a potential connection to the Morganton Greenway Trail and the Fonta Flora Trail, community agricultural land, recreation trail, restoration areas and community events.

“Picture Morganton in 20 years,” said Beth Willard-Patton, associate director for FCNC. “Obviously we know that our area is growing. It is growing residentially and people are moving here, but it is also a growing tourist destination with all the outdoor recreation and pass through to the mountain and all the great restaurants and entertainment.”

In 20 years, she believes the growth will be even greater.

“So if we have this little pocket of area right in the middle of that that is totally natural and place where you can go camping that is 10 minutes from your house or a place where you can put your bike on your car and get to in five or 10 minutes depending on where you live,” Willard-Patton said.

She thinks that young families will benefit from the proposed park.

David Moore, a professor at Warren Wilson College, was out at the property recently and believes that the site may be grounds for some archeological work.

“He believes that this has high probability of being a site of having artifacts … or settlement areas,” Kota said.

“It is not just about education and recreation, we are talking about community agriculture,” he said. “This is 90 acres or so of productive farm soil.”

They would love to invite the public, who may not have access to good farmland, to have their own little gardens where they have their own plot.

“We have heard that , in particular , the Guatemalan community would be a great place for them because, culturally, that is very important to them,” Willard-Patton said.

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Undeveloped forests are also a portion of the property that Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina is trying to purchase.

There are many obstacles the FCNC will have to overcome to make this happen, Willard-Patton said.

“If we don’t raise the money , it won’t happen,” she said.

They will know by this summer if the project is “scoring” well and if financial benchmarks are not reached they will ask or more time, Kota said, but nothing is guaranteed.

“It is the duty of our land trust to be more engaged in conservation project s that impact communities directly,” Kota said. “We are proud that we have protected 56,000 acres.”

For more information on the project, visit www.foothillsconservancy.org.

Staff Writer Jonelle Bobak can be reached at jbobak@morganton.com or 828-432-8907.

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