Thumbs up for the Town of Wilkesboro’s Heritage Square Splash Pad, a big hit of the summer of 2019.

This free water play area is drawing as many as around 50 people at a time to the Wilkes Heritage Museum front lawn.

On Friday, about a dozen mothers and a few fathers sat on benches or beach towels in the grass while watching their children play in the splash pad’s 25-plus water jets.

The scene in front of the historic former county courthouse, where county government business was handled, political gatherings were held and justice was meted out for over a century, was almost surreal.

As unexpected as it might be for longtime Wilkes residents, it still is a pleasing and welcome sight.

Free outdoor recreation, exercise for young children and family time is a good use of public property.

Bringing families – local or from outside Wilkes County – to downtown Wilkesboro is a primary reason the Wilkesboro Town Council authorized construction of the water play area.

Carolina West Wireless, a community-minded Wilkesboro-based business, saw the value of this endeavor and funded it as a sponsor, as well as the adjacent Carolina West Wireless Community Commons.

To activate the water jets for five minutes at a time, users step on a circular metal pad near the benches on the west side of the water play area. The five-minute cycle features a variety of water jet heights and shapes. Jets along the outer edges of the play area are designed at levels appropriate for young children.

Details about splash pad policies and rules are on a kiosk adjacent to the splash pad and also on the Town of Wilkesboro website.

The splash pad, community commons, new landscaping and sidewalks, parking changes, putting power lines underground, replacing stoplights with four-way stop signs and other changes are about making downtown Wilkesboro more pedestrian friendly and a destination for entertainment, dining, recreation and shopping.

A candy store that opened at the corner of Bridge and Main streets a couple of years back and the opening of a new eatery in a renovated, historic building on Main Street – soon to become Wilkes County’s first fully-licensed brewery – about a month ago are examples of the economic development these investments can help produce.

Ultimately, however, it’s about enhanced quality of life.

Town-sponsored outdoor concerts and free outdoor family-friendly movies are included in the plans, but unfortunately the weather hasn’t cooperated with this so far this summer.

Wilkesboro officials can’t do anything about the weather, but the public needs permanent restrooms and additional and convenient parking.

Port-a-jons are set up now at the community commons but there are plans for public restrooms in the town-owned “Rock Building” on North Bridge Street between the heritage museum and community commons.

The town’s plans also include enlarging and improving a public parking area off South Bridge Street about one block south of Main Street.

Now that a local businessman’s plans for constructing an 18-unit, four-story “luxury” condo building on the former county jail property behind the heritage museum are off the table, it would be in the public’s best interest to utilize that vacant town-owned property as a gravel parking lot – at least until a more advantageous use comes along.

The multi-phase revitalization of downtown Wilkesboro is gaining momentum, partly through attracting positive regional and statewide media attention.

So far, it appears to be a successful undertaking.

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