Saturday, May 24, 2014

Agency seeks highest level protection for property added to state parks

RALEIGH – Legislation pending before the North Carolina General Assembly will grant ultimate protection to 17,000 acres added to the state parks system in recent years by incorporating those lands into the State Nature and Historic Preserve established by the state constitution.

The proposal that originated from the office of Secretary John Skvarla of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resource was drafted into legislation by the Environmental Review Commission in April and endorsed by the Council of State at a May 6 meeting.

The land has been acquired since 2009 for 23 units of the state parks system, with principal funding from the state’s conservation trust funds. The 91 tracts have an appraised value of $94.4 million and include 3,394 acres at Grandfather Mountain State Park, 1,823 acres at Chimney Rock State Park, 2,916 acres at Carvers Creek State Park and 2,818 acres at Yellow Mountain State Natural Area.

“This action reflects the growth of the state parks system and will ensure the protection of the land in perpetuity,” Secretary Skvarla said. “Lands designated to the State Nature and Historic Preserve are among the most cherished in North Carolina, and the state parks system is proud of its record of stewardship of these natural resources.”

North Carolina’s constitution establishes the State Nature and Historic Preserve as the legal vehicle that ensures conservation of land “as a part of the common heritage,” and designation restricts the use of that property to conservation and recreation purposes. Public land can only be added to the State Nature and Historic Preserve by a three-fifths majority vote in both houses of the General Assembly. Likewise, a three-fifths majority vote is required to remove land from the Preserve. The proposed legislation would authorize some minor deletions requested by the state parks system to improve park management or to allow minor road improvements.

Much of the property in the State Nature and Historic Preserve that is publicly accessible is recognized as an important component of North Carolina’s successful tourism industry as well. Gov. Pat McCrory announced earlier this month that the industry generated record visitor spending of $20.2 billion in 2013. An earlier study for the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation revealed that visitors to state parks contribute at least $400 million annually to state and local economies.

The state parks system manages 219,905 acres, most of it contained in 35 state parks, four state recreation areas and 20 state natural areas.

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