Lake Norman & Mooresville

Troutman's park plan becomes the real deal

Some thought it would never happen, but if all goes according to plan, groundbreaking for the first phase of a family-oriented park in Troutman will be held this August.

The recreation complex, Troutman's first, will be built behind Town Hall on vacant property owned by local employer Engineered Sintered Components.

The project will be funded, in part, by a recently awarded $500,000 state grant.

Jan Comer, human resources officer for ESC and head of the town's park committee, says the awarding of the state grant in May was the big break the project needed.

"I think many people were waiting to see if this was just a dream. Now that we have the $500,000 commitment, there's a sense around town that this park is really coming to fruition."

The project might never have happened but for the placement of adjoining ESC and Troutman booths at a South Iredell High School Jobs Fair in 2009. Comer spent a good part of the day speaking with Town Manager David Saleeby, who staffed the town's booth.

The conversation was dominated by concern over the lack of athletic fields in the Troutman area and how difficult it was for youngsters to find a place for their games.

"I went home that night and thought to myself: ESC owns 90 acres in Troutman and there's no way we'll ever use all of that property," said Comer. "So why not help the town and the community?"

ESC's executives heard her plea and agreed to lease some of the vacant land located between their Murdock Road complex and Town Hall for $1 per year.

The town quickly formed a park planning committee to draw up plans for the facility, including extensive input from community residents.

From that process came a blueprint that includes a first phase, estimated to cost $1.17 million. The complex will include a multipurpose athletic field for soccer and football, a walking trail through preserved woods, a safe, modern playground and a picnic pavilion.

The town also was aware that the state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund provides dollar-for-dollar matching grants to local governments for parks and recreational projects throughout North Carolina; however, the competition for the funds is intense.

"There were 80 applications before the PARTF board this year," said Town Planner Erika Martin. "Out of the 80 applicants, only 23 were awarded, and Troutman came in second only to the Town of Clayton.

"The board said our application was creative and that the letters they had received from Troutman Middle School students was one of the best letter-writing campaigns they had seen."

Troutman also formed a committee to raise money through private donations. A donor's name will be engraved on a brick for those who contribute $100.

To date the committee has raised approximately $155,000. Perhaps no donation is more touching than the $10 resident James Meador sends in each month when he pays his water bill.

"I think there's a real need for the kids in Troutman," said Meador, 61. "Unfortunately, I don't have the resources to pay $100 at one time and get a brick in my name, so I'm paying $10 a month instead." His type of generosity has really made an impression on town officials.

"Over the past 12 years I have served as mayor, nothing has created as much excitement and citizen involvement as this effort to create a community park," said Troutman Mayor Elbert Richardson. "Our community is firmly committed to seeing this park become a reality, and the Town Board is prepared, if necessary, to borrow money to complete the park."

Town officials plan to provide a walk-through on the proposed park site during the annual Troutman Independence Day Celebration on July2. They are also hopeful that the momentum generated by the state grant will persuade residents and businesses from Troutman and surrounding communities, such as Mooresville, to donate money.