MORGANTON, N.C. – North Carolina may soon be adding a new state park to its roster. Land conservationists have announced the purchase of 188 acres in Catawba County, which will protect the land from being developed.
The project is part of a larger effort to acquire lands on the Jacob Fork and Henry Fork rivers for a new state park that would be owned and managed by the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.
Tom Kenney, land protection director with the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, the group working to conserve the property, said the private landowners who agreed to sell saw long-term benefits for the local economy as well as the environment.
“Land conservation that offers new public access, new public trails, is prized not just by our organization, but by local communities,” Kenney said; “because they know and they see how these projects translate into new destinations that young people, that new companies, are going to ask about when they want to relocate.”
The state can’t purchase the land from the Foothills Conservancy to create the park in Catawba County without legislative approval. Bills have been been introduced in both the House and Senate, which also include creation of two new state trails. North Carolina currently operates 27 state parks.
The land acquisition will permanently protect about 1.5 miles of the Jacob Fork River and its tributaries, while offering river access to Hickory residents and nearby communities for canoeing, hiking and camping. Kenney said preserving waterways like the Jacob Fork also safeguards drinking water quality.
“Land conservation is one of the most effective ways to protect the water quality of our streams and drinking water supplies in North Carolina,” he said. “Other environmental benefits are protecting habitat for fish and wildlife.”
He added North Carolina’s local land-trust organizations have so far protected more than 400,000 acres across the state.