The Wilkes County commissioners have agreed to apply for a $191,194 state grant for building a bath house and covered picnic area in the eastern end of the Lowe’s Park at River’s Edge in Wilkesboro.

The commissioners voted 3-2 to apply for the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) grant for the facility, which would include bathrooms and showers, during their April 6 meeting.

Commissioners David Gambill and Brian Minton voted against applying for the grant. Gambill said he had questions about the proposed facility’s security, location, cleaning and the local $191,194 match that must be provided if the grant is approved.

Commissioner Keith Elmore made the motion to apply for the grant after he asked if it cost anything to apply and was told no. Elmore said the bathhouse and picnic shelter would be a nice addition to the 90-acre park.

Commissioner Casey Joe Johnson seconded the motion and said the proposed bath house and picnic shelter would enhance recreational opportunities for the public at what already is a great park.

Eddie Settle, chairman of the commissioners, joined Elmore and Johnson in voting to apply for the grant. Johnson participated in the meeting remotely by video.

Kelly Coffey, senior planner with the High Country Council of Governments, and Wilkes Recreation Department Director Kevin Anderson appeared before the commissioners concerning the grant application.

Coffey said the commissioners had time to delay their decision until their April 20 meeting since the application wasn’t due until May 3.

Coffey said County Manager John Yates and Anderson met with him recently concerning applying for the $191,194 grant for building the bath house and picnic shelter.

In statements in the meeting, Coffey, Yates and Anderson indicated the need for the facility because of its distance from an existing facility with bathrooms, showers and covered picnic facilities.

Coffey said it would serve people camping at River’s Edge park during MerleFest.

Gambill asked if only MerleFest campers would use the showers and questioned if that should be a county parks and recreation matter. He said another question was how the local match should be funded.

Yates said the commissioners didn’t need to determine where in their budget the money would come from that night.

The Wilkes Family YMCA operates the campground on the park property during MerleFest as a Y fundraiser under a contract with the county. Yates said the Y now must rent portable showers during the festival. “It would be a cost savings to everyone if we had our own (shower) facilities,” he added.

Anderson said he believes the YMCA is willing to contribute annually toward the cost of providing the proposed new bath house and picnic shelter, but added that he didn’t recall how much. Gambill said he would like to know that amount.

County Attorney Tony Triplett said the contract under which the YMCA operates the campground during MerleFest is up for renewal and could be ready for commissioners to consider renewing at their April 20 meeting.

Elmore asked if the new bath house and picnic shelter could be completed before the next MerleFest, which is Sept. 16-19 at Wilkes Community College. Coffey said that wasn’t possible.

Anderson said umpires working at travel ball games could change clothes and shower there. “I’m not sure about the general public (using the showers) on a daily basis,” he added.

He also said it could be locked each night if commissioners wanted that.

When Elmore asked Anderson if he believes the county should move forward with seeking the grant, Anderson said there are no bathroom facilities in the eastern end of the 90-acre park. He said the proposed bathhouse and picnic area would be helpful for people using the greenway around the track.

Anderson said additional ball fields and other athletic facilities hopefully can be added to the far eastern end in the next three to five years and a bathhouse and picnic facility there would prove even more valuable then.

Coffey and Anderson said the PARTF grant process is very competitive.

Coffey said a board meets late in the summer to decide which grant applications are approved. Anderson said about 18-20 PARTF grants totaling about $6 million are given out per year.

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