Lincoln County is preserving 116 acres of secluded woodlands near Lake Norman where people will be able to picnic, bird-watch and hike.The planned Rock Springs Nature Preserve off Pine Ridge Road has three creeks that converge and eventually flow into Little Creek Fork Cove, where the county has its Lake Norman water intake system in Denver. Though not yet officially open to the public, the preserve already is part of the Carolina Thread Trail, a regional network of greenways and trails in 15 Carolinas counties with a total population of 2.3 million people. The Thread, as it’s nicknamed, has 113 miles open to the public so far. Rock Springs Nature Preserve is home to beavers and deer and majestic oaks, along with pine, beech, hickory, tulip, poplar and several species of native magnolia trees. It has creeping cedar and wild muscadine vines, and ferns on rock outcroppings.The preserve includes hilly, at times steep, terrain with 30-foot drops that reminds Lincoln County Parks and Recreation Director Erma Deen Hoyle of another stunningly beautiful setting. “It really does look like the mountains,” Hoyle said on a Jan. 10 hike of the property. “Hard to believe this is Lincoln County.”The county owns the land and put most of the acreage into a conservation easement held by the Catawba Lands Conservancy, thereby protecting the preserve from development. The park is named after a spring at the nearby Rock Springs Campground on Campground Road. The spring feeds one of the creeks that flows through the preserve.The preserve will be the county’s largest park – West Lincoln Park is the next largest at 54 acres – and will be the county’s only “passive” park. That means most of the acreage will be left mostly in its natural state for hikers and others to commune with nature. Trails fashioned out of rock dust or mulch by Boy Scouts and other volunteers will one day weave through the preserve. PlaygroundThe only part of the park the county plans to put anything on is a section of just less than eight acres at Pine Ridge Road.The county will open bids Jan. 22 for a nature-themed playground, 50-space parking lot, restrooms, picnic shelter and an ADA-accessible asphalt trail loop. Construction is scheduled to begin March 1 and take nine months, Hoyle said. An official opening would happen by early spring 2014, she said.Bids for the project are expected to come in at about $700,000 or $800,000, Hoyle said.Wirth & Associates of Charlotte, a landscape architect and land planning firm, prepared the preserve’s master plan.FundingTo buy the land, Lincoln County in 2008 received a $500,000 matching grant from the N.C. Parks & Recreation Trust Fund and a $1.6-million loan from the federal Source Water Protection Program through the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The 20-year loan is at 1 percent interest. The county used part of the Source Water Protection funds to match the Trust Fund grant, Hoyle said.The county also received a $50,000 grant in 2008 from the Duke Energy-funded N.C. Habitat Enhancement Program, Hoyle said. That money was used for site surveying and design work for the project by Wirth & Associates. To develop the acreage, the county in 2011 received a $415,000 matching grant from the N.C. Parks & Recreation Trust Fund. County funds will be used to match the grant, Hoyle said.PreservationThe county also plans to have an outdoor learning area at the preserve – basically benches where students would learn about the environment.Inside the park is complete silence, except for the occasional ruffling of feathers of birds in the trees and the sound of running water in the creeks.The park also has two confirmed historical sites.January Porter, an archaeologist with the Lincoln County Historic Properties Commission, is researching a historic rock wall in the preserve that could have run along a road that disappeared many years ago, Hoyle said.County historians, meanwhile, are researching two historic chimneys found at a site known as the Lowe-Nixon Homestead, Hoyle said.So the park, she said, is preserving history along with a natural setting.
Friday, Jan. 18, 2013
Nature preserve to open at Lake Norman
Rock Springs Nature Preserve is in eastern Lincoln County