Volunteers serving ice cream at Celebrate Flat Rock include, starting with the nearest: Carolyn Etherington, Terry Enslen and Park Rayfield. At right, Bryan Byrd smiles about getting the cold treat.
By Pete Zamplas- People are starting to enjoy nature hikes on The Park at Flat Rock’s new 1.36-mile fitness trail.
The park was a popular topic as hundreds enjoyed music and complimentary ice cream Saturday, at the Village of Flat Rock’s Celebrate Flat Rock annual social on Village Hall grounds. Officials said the social will likely remain at that central site, but new events will be held at the park once rest rooms are ready months from now. An information tent about the park, at the social, housed sketches and data.
The 66-acre park is the former Highland Lake Golf Club, at the village’s eastern edge. The Village bought it for $1.15 million a year ago in June 2013, after Henderson County commissioners decided not to buy it for soccer fields.. The ribbon-cutting for the trail was April 22.
The park is open dawn to dusk; there are no lights. A gate should soon be put up, to close off the entrance off Highland Lake Road just south of railroad tracks, Vice Mayor Nick Weedman said.
The walking trail goes around the park perimeter, going from the parking lot by the entrance. The trail follows the golf cart path. The soft surface has finely-crushed compacted stone. It gives some cushion to footing, and can handle flooding with minimal damage, Weedman said. He said bicycles are permitted on the trail, but not skateboards or roller blades.
Many walk dogs on the trail. A dispenser donated by PetSafe is near the clubhouse and lot, and has free doggy waste bags. Dog walkers are urged to clean up after their pets and keep them leashed in the park, and former Mayor Terry Hicks sees that happening. He calls the park trail “wonderful.” He and his wife Chris are among avid park walkers. Volunteers are welcome as park monitors.
Nick Weedman, stands by the sketch for the planned welcome center.
Many golf sand traps will be retained, for children to play in, Weedman said. But to keep park maintenance simple and affordable, there are no plans for a public putting green let alone driving range. Officials involved in park planning include longtime proponents Weedman and Hicks, current Mayor Bob Staton and Village Council members Anne Coletta, Jimmy Chandler, Don Farr, Albert Gooch and Sheryl Jamerson. The Park and Recreation Advisory Committee’s Ginger Brown led research about park amenity options.
To spearhead fundraising, Maurean Adams was hired in spring as part-time development director of the Flat Rock Park and Recreation Foundation, Inc. She is seeking grants for park amenities, as the village phases them in. She emphasized that private donations are the backbone. She retired three years ago as executive director of the Children and Family Resource Center. Her husband Dave Adams works with Jeff Miller on HonorAir and other civic projects.
“This will be an extraordinary park that speaks to the culture of Flat Rock, with its value on respecting the environment and local history,” Maurean Adams said.
Next up in coming months is renovating the closed former clubhouse into a park welcome center. The estimate of $147,000 is on top of $17,000 already spent, said Weedman, also village finance officer. Restrooms will be enlarged and more handicap-accessible. Two-thirds of space is for bathrooms, the rest for office and storage. Preliminary plans are by Shamburger Design Studio. Ed Lastein manages such village park construction projects. A kiosk will be erected nearby, and posted on it will be a schedule of park activities and special events.
The village’s long-range master plan for the park includes a playground, and 80-foot-long picnic pavilion near the clubhouse where the cart station was torn down. The pavilion could be cleared of tables for weekend square dances, Weedman suggested.
The advisory committee is thoughtfully planning the playground, as a destination spot. An idea is for exercise stations along the fitness trail such as in Tryon’s park, or away from it, Brown said. She foresees three fitness areas, each serving a different skill level. She said, “We want the playground to be special, much more than swings and a slide.”
Overall, though, survey results showed residents prefer the park feature nature and a fitness trail, and not high-traffic sports. Instead, people can toss frisbees or balls in open space. A tennis court is a remote long-range option, at best, Weedman said. Steve and Becky Vorheis, among many others, said they are glad the park is left in its natural state. Jerry and Julie Ashebeck, both active with Historic Flat Rock, are grateful the site is a park and not another housing development.
Long-range plans call for a possible auxiliary picnic shelter, more picnic tables, wetland viewing stations, trails across the park interior, and added landscaping.
Seeing and hearing wildlife is a bonus. Bryan Byrd likes to “hear birds, and get away from the world” when on the trail. The red-winged black bird is the park symbol, and among more unusual species, Adams said. There are many wildflowers, a lily pond, and a pond with a pair of Canada geese as sentries.
East Henderson High Life Skills students of James Reed mulched flower beds by the park entrance. Some suggest a community flower garden. A likely project is to restore Guy Creek in the park interior to its earlier, farmland condition, Adams said. Highland Golf Villas residents helped lessen creek bank erosion, which improves water quality downstream in King Creek.
The park’s handful of benches have back supports that can fold flat, to form a picnic table. A bench is off the path, by the northernmost pond, for more privacy. That side is flanked by a dozen Highland Golf Villas homes. Those residents can see into the park, and in turn park users can keep an eye out for the back yards and homes.
Several park users told The Tribune last week they feel safe there, with the trail in open sight with little tree shade. They like the quietness, and how there are typically a mere handful on the trail at a time during the day and no cyclists. Lori Parker said few more are there after work, and they are “spread out, not on top of each other.”
Stephanie Wick is among many who walk in Flat Rock’s park during lunch breaks, for a relaxing break and exercise. She walks two laps, for 2.72 miles.
With costs so far above estimates, Village Council voted in April to hold off for a year on further construction projects such as a $644,000 entrance driveway and reconfigured, expanded parking. Weedman said that once interest rates climb, interest on the village fund balance could cover park operations, upkeep and improvements.
He wants that balance kept above $3 million, to generate enough interest revenue. Mayor Staton and others also want to pay for the park as finances allow, rather than incur debt or raise taxes.
A dog park is off the table, after the recreation committee concluded there is insufficient space. Fencing is needed, but prohibited in the 100-year flood plain in most of the park.
Park grounds maintenance will be done by FitzSimons Property Services, the low valid bidder at $34,620 annually, Town Administrator Judy Boleman noted.
At the ribbon-cutting, Flat Rock Middle council and Builder’s Club students planted a sugar maple tree for Earth Day. Those students prepared a park brochure.
To find out more about The Park at Flat Rock and how to help with it, contact the village office at 697-8100.