When I first heard of the possibility of creating an Oak Hill Community Park and Forest on the undeveloped property bounded by Oak Hill School, NC 181, NC 126, and Watermill Road, I was overjoyed. If this park and forest can come to fruition, it would be a tremendous asset not only to the Oak Hill Community, but to the City of Morganton, Burke County, and even Western North Carolina.
Growing up at Oak Hill School where my dad, the late Bill Brown, Jr., was Principal, I spent many hours playing, exploring, and hunting in the woods on the property that is proposed for the park and forest. The Principal’s House where I grew up was located right on the school grounds and was the perfect jumping off point for a young boy to explore the vast (what seemed to me at the time) wilderness. All I had to do was to step out the back door and I was practically on the 660-acre tract of the proposed park and forest. As a young boy I explored just about every inch of that property, always finding something new and interesting with each visit. I know of at least two old home sites located on that property, as well as the remains of some brick pits that, I believe, date to the late 19th century. There are several creeks and springs, many hills and valleys, and all sorts of interesting forest land and agriculture fields to explore. Growing up with that wide-open expanse of forested land in my backyard was a great experience, and I am extremely fortunate to have had that kind of open space so near to where I lived.
With the ever expanding urbanization of our community, the need for a large protected tract of open land is great. Future generations deserve to have the same experiences I had growing up, with open spaces to explore and enjoy. The proposed Oak Hill Community Park and Forest would provide almost unlimited opportunities for all citizens of the community and surrounding areas. With 660 acres of undeveloped forest and agricultural land available, things such as hiking trails, mountain biking trails, and environmental education opportunities could be implemented with relative ease. This tract is also ideally situated to offer a connection from the Fonta Flora State Trail and the City of Morganton’s Catawba River Greenway trail system. With a tract of land of that size and in that location, future expansion of the park resources and infrastructure could include even more opportunities, for not only citizens of the community and surrounding area, but for far-reaching tourism, which brings much needed dollars to the area.
Having spent 30 years as a Burke County Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor, I am acutely aware of the potential for improving the environment this park and forest would present. Over a mile of Canoe Creek and several miles of its tributary streams flows through the property of the proposed park and forest. Canoe Creek has been identified as an impaired stream and securing this property and protecting it from future residential or commercial development would be a major step in improving water quality. This tract of land is perfect for forest and wildlife restoration projects, as well as agricultural experimentation and community supported agriculture, all of which offer many educational opportunities for the adjacent schools of Oak Hill Elementary, Table Rock Middle, Freedom High, and nearby Western Piedmont Community College.
None of the benefits and opportunities aforementioned can come to pass unless the land for the proposed Oak Hill Community Park and Forest is secured. At the present time, Foothills Conservancy has a purchase option on the land. Several funding sources have been identified, such as a potential grant from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and private and public funding sources, to help raise the anticipated $3 million needed for this project. Time is also of the essence, as significant fundraising progress must be made by the fall of 2019.
I would encourage everyone who has an interest in the betterment of the community and the surrounding areas, as well as the everyone who has a positive vision for future generations, to support the proposed Oak Hill Community Park and Forest project by contacting your local city, county, and state officials and administrators and advocating for their support of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This 660-acre tract is virtually the last large size tract that is so uniquely situated. If it falls to development, it will be forever gone. Don’t let this opportunity slip away.