Vintage car group drops plans to use state park

Organizers of a national convention of sports car buffs have dropped plans to use Pilot Mountain State Park in Surry County for a Sept. 11 hill climb, the convention’s host said Wednesday.

State officials have said it would be unprecedented to close a park to the public to such an extent, the Observer reported Sunday. Reaction to the story led to the decision to move the event elsewhere, a co-founder of host Shelton Vineyards indicated.

State officials had said they intended to grant the permit for a $10,000 fee if a bill now before the legislature is adopted. A provision in the bill, which has not been adopted, lets the environment secretary allow exemptions of the 25 mph speed limit in state parks.

Shelton Vineyards co-founder Ed Shelton said in a statement Wednesday that he was asked to serve on a committee for the convention of the Vintage Triumph Register.

Shelton said the Pilot Mountain superintendent “assured us that the entire park could be rented for special events” for fees totaling $1,300. He said the official didn’t object to the committee’s plans to talk to officials in Raleigh about a speed-limit exemption for the hill climb.

Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, has said Ed Shelton and his brother Charlie asked her to add the speed-limit provision. Stevens couldn’t be reached Wednesday.

Internal emails show that superintendent Matt Windsor warned superiors that the hill climb could be unsafe on the park’s winding road. He worried about setting a “troubling precedent” for other parks.

Shelton’s statement said reaction to the park-closing and speed limit issues, and questions about the Sheltons’ influence, prompted the Triumph group to withdraw its request.

Shelton family members and company executives donated at least $32,000 to Gov. Pat McCrory’s 2012 campaign, state records show. McCrory appointed current environment secretary John Skvarla.

“The bottom line is that if we had wanted to use our influence we would have gone to the governor’s office,” Shelton told the Observer. “But we went through proper channels.”

The Vintage Triumph Register has “no interest in the distraction that would have gone with trying to correct all the false information or fight some political battle,” Jack McGahey, its national president and a Mint Hill resident, said by email. “This never should have been any sort of partisan political issue and our sponsors should not be placed in any position to have to defend their involvement with our event.”

Assistant Environment Secretary Brad Ives has said the state would be receptive to limited private use of parks if it helps local economies.

“More than 500 people are expected to attend (the Triumph convention) and will stay in the Surry County hotels for visits of five to seven days,” Shelton’s statement said. “They will enjoy the restaurants in our area and will visit our many attractions. It is our hope that these people will enjoy their visit and they will plan return trips to Surry County in the future.”