The Wilkesboro Town Council voted 3-1 Friday to purchase a bottomland parcel east of Oakwoods Road for a planned connection of Cub Creek Park to the Yadkin River Greenway.
The town agreed to buy the 41.2-acre parcel (ID 2206237) from Furches Evergreens Inc. for $175,000. The parcel is in the floodplain on both sides of Cub Creek as the creek flows east and then north toward the Wilkesboro Wastewater Treatment Plant and the creek’s junction with the Yadkin River, near where the connection with the greenway will be made.
Council member Nellie Archibald made the motion to purchase the property, after saying earlier in the two-day town retreat at the Wilkes Heritage Museum that it was a “once in a lifetime opportunity.” Councilmember Andy Soots said he agreed with Archibald.
Councilmember Russ Ferree also voted for the purchase, saying prior, “I think we have an opportunity to be known as a city of destination because of our parks and recreation. I’m tired of being known as a pass-by town. This feeds into our need for new jobs and quality of life. I want a greenway to bring that to this town.”
The vote of opposition was cast by Councilmember Jimmy Hayes, who said, “We don’t need it—that’s my opinion.”
The town has applied for a $255,000 N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant for half of the connector project. The town must match whatever grant amount is awarded.
The existing Cub Creek Park walking trail would connect with the greenway by passing underneath Oakwoods Road via a vehicular/pedestrian bridge planned for 2021, following Cub Creek until it joins with Little Cub Creek (Mill Creek), then continuing north under the East Main Street bridge below the treatment plant. The connection point would be at the eastern terminus of the Lowe’s Trailhead at Cornerstone Church in Wilkesboro.
The connection would link the 9.5 miles of greenway trails to the 8.3 miles of Cub Creek Park trails. This would be the first linking to trails beyond the park’s boundaries.
The 41.2 acres includes all of the bottomland between Edgewood Drive and Cub Creek and between gravel Rousseau Farm Road and Cub Creek. It also includes all of the bottomland between Rousseau Farm Road and Little Cub Creek to the eastern end of Rousseau Farm Road.
Phase two of downtown revitalization
Also during the retreat, the council heard from town staff about the town’s options for the second phase of downtown revitalization that is planned to start in 2021. The first phase involved about $2 million invested in the Carolina West Wireless Community Commons and Heritage Square.
Phase two is planned to upgrade Main Street streetscape to match the design of the commons with public plazas, street trees, seating and planting areas, new lighting and signage. The second phase will also affect pedestrian, bike and vehicular connections, including from the Yadkin River Greenway to Cub Creek Park.
Bob Urness, Wilkesboro’s director of finance and assistant town manager, explained that the town could comfortably spend between $3 and $5 million on phase two, with the town taking out a 30- to 40-year low interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provides such loans for rural economic development.
“When you think of phase two, with the involvement of Duke (Energy) and these utilities, it’s possible you’re funded within the next year but the project might not be done in five years,” said Urness. “We have the financial means to really consider whether it’s a best benefit for us.”
Town Manager Ken Noland said he told State Treasurer Dale Folwell during a recent phone conversation, “Wilkesboro’s finances are in great shape, and we’ve got big plans. I’m getting ready to ask you for $40 million for my utility fund (for expansion of the town’s raw water and waste water plants) and then I’m going to borrow $4 or $5 million potentially for the downtown, and we’re not done.”
Noland said of phase two improvements, “We’ve got the backbone to do it—our (utility) rates are there, our money is there. The town has the financial capacity.”
Town staff has prepared for phase two for several years, noted Noland. “Let’s come up with a (funding) number, and we’ll get done as much as we can. Prioritize, give us the number, then say, ‘go to work, guys.’ I don’t want the money to scare you; you just need to think about what you’d like your downtown to look like. What we’ve showed you is that even at the $5 million range, you’re pretty comfortable. We can make this work even with a little more than that.”
Urness said a preliminary engineering report on phase two would have to be commissioned before the council would be asked to approve a specific amount of funding for the project.
Noland told the council they didn’t have to wait for USDA funding before expanding the town’s system of sidewalks. He said the top priority is the extension of East Main Street across Oakwoods Road toward the town’s waste water treatment plant.
“I want to start putting sidewalks in the ground. The piece I would like to finish first is East Main, because we’ve fixed or replaced that sidewalk from Stokes Street to Oakwoods. We can do that last little bit fairly quick, get it done and make it look pretty over there.”
Noland said the expansion of sidewalk at the top of Curtis Bridge Road west toward the bridge over the Yadkin River will cost around $160,000. He also mentioned the sidewalk extension of Bridge Street to the Wilkes County Courthouse and out on N.C. 268 West to the Wilkes Family YMCA.
Urness said the total sidewalk work should amount to about $450,000.
Cub Creek playground
Andrew Carlton, director of planning and community development, told the council that ground should be broke in January on an inclusive playground at the eastern end of Cub Creek Park. Construction should last about a year on the $300,000 project.
Funding is expected to come from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, which awards matching grants to local governments for parks and park improvements.
Phase one of the project includes an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant playground, modeled after Lebauer City Park in downtown Greensboro, and an ADA-approved fishing pier on Cub Creek south of the playground.
The council also gave direction to Carlton on the rebuilding of the town-owned “Rock Building” on North Bridge Street, also a 2021 project.
The building was constructed around 1935, before there was a town building code. The town bought it in 2016 for $225,000 and it was demolished earlier this year after engineers determined it was structurally unsound and had asbestos infestation.
The council decided the one-story building should contain eight restrooms, green space for musical artists and an open roof viewing area. Carlton estimated that such a building should cost between $250,000 and $300,000.
Noland told the council in summary, “The most exciting part of where we sit right now is the fruits of your labor that we’re seeing come to fruition. The businesses that have opened on and off Main Street, the housing that’s coming—what better testament that you’re doing the right thing. And then the (2020 community) survey tells us (residents) like what we’re doing. Don’t stop!”