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Important New River Addition Marks Parks System's 90th Year

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Michael F. Easley, Governor
William G. Ross, Jr., Secretary

Release Note: 
Charlie Peek
Release Date: 
Sunday, September 10, 2006

Important New River Addition Marks Parks System's 90th Year

RALEIGH --A notable benchmark during the 90th anniversary of the North Carolina state parks system will be the dedication Sept. 15 of the largest tract ever added to New River State Park in Ashe and Alleghany counties.

The ceremony also comes 30 years after a 26.5-mile segment of the New River State Park won designation as a federal wild and scenic river, setting its course as a corridor of conservation in the mountains.

Dedication of the 638-acre Bower/Darnell tract will be at 11 a.m. at the state park's Wagoner Access near Jefferson, according to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

Acquisition of the tract is a partnership effort of the Bower/Darnell family, the National Committee for the New River and all three of the state's conservation trust funds -- Clean Water Management, Parks and Recreation and Natural Heritage.

"It's fitting that attention should focus on New River State Park during our 90th Anniversary," said Lewis Ledford, director of the division. "The story of that state park is one of conservation, citizen involvement and resourcefulness, which has served as a backdrop for so many of our state parks. This particular acquisition is the result of similar commitment to conservation and partnership by the property heirs, a conservation agency and the state."

The amendment to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act designating the New River was signed in Washington by then-President Gerald Ford on Sept. 11, 1976. The signing punctuated a long struggle to keep the South Fork of the New River in a natural state in the face of Appalachian Power Co.'s plans to dam the river. The National Committee for the New River was organized to guide that conservation effort. New River State Park, which is now 1,701 acres, was established in the wake of the battle over the dam.

The Wagoner Access was one of the first tracts acquired for the new state park and the first to be developed. Acquisition of the Bower/Darnell tract just downstream will protect an additional 1.6 miles of river shoreline and 13,000 linear feet of tributaries. The property offers both flood plain and steep, wooded slopes.

The Bower/Darnell family approached the National Committee for the New River with an interest in adding the property to the state park in order to keep it in a natural state.

"Everyone wins when landowners like the Bowers and Phil Darnell step up to protect the river," said George Santucci, executive director of the committee. "More than a mile of riverbank is preserved and, at the same time, the public will be able to enjoy this beautiful property."

The Parks and Recreation Trust Fund set aside $2.11 million for the acquisition. That money was augmented by $2 million from the Natural Heritage Trust Fund and $2.27 million from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

"We are proud to be a partner with North Carolina's state parks," said Bill Holman, executive director of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. "The New River addition is one of 14 similar parks projects we have been involved in, and thanks to the support of the N.C. General Assembly, we have been able to invest more than $22 million to help conserve North Carolina's valuable natural resources by expanding parks across the state."

The second largest acquisition in the history of the state park was 349 acres at the confluence of the north and south forks in 1990. Also, in 2005, 110 acres of north-facing bluffs at New River Heights was acquired through the help of the National Committee for the New River and the state's Ecosystem Enhancement Program.

A new visitor center for the park is nearing completion at the U.S. 221 Access. The development project, built with $7.5 million from the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, also includes an exhibit hall, group picnic shelter, campground and maintenance facilities.

The dedication will be at New River State Park's Wagoner Access. It is located on Wagoner Road which turns left off N.C. 88 four miles east of Jefferson.