Standing in the shadow of Mount Pisgah on a chilly, yet clear and sunny Earth Day at Pisgah View Ranch in Candler – slated to be Buncombe County’s first state park – Gov. Roy Cooper announced his commitment to expanding outdoor recreation in Western North Carolina with an unprecedented boost to funding state parks.
“The outdoor recreation economy in North Carolina is booming, particularly here out West, so the more opportunities that we give to people to hike, to fish, to camp, to ride and to just be closer to nature is just critically important,” Cooper said April 22.
Included in the governor’s proposed budget is $210 million to the state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, which funds state parks capital projects, repairs and renovations of facilities and land acquisition – double the current funding level – and to the Land and Water Fund, which goes toward purchasing land that protects water quality.
The proposal also includes $3 million of reserve from the 2016 Connect NC Bond Grant Program to fund park improvements.
The state parks budget is solely funded through PARTF, said spokesperson Katie Hall.
The governor’s proposed budget includes $150 million for PARTF over two years – meaning $75 million a year – and would more than quadruple the annual allocation of the current $17 million.
Plans to turn the privately-owned ranch into Pisgah View State Park officially started in July 2019 when Cooper signed into law SB 535, authorizing the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to create the park, which will sit mostly in western Buncombe County, with a small parcel in Haywood County.
“I’m grateful as governor that this legislation was introduced as Pisgah State Park and how wonderful it’s going to be,” Cooper said. “Yes, development is fine in certain areas. We need to grow our economy, but preserving areas that are not developed also helps our economy.”
The 1,600-acre ranch will not officially become a state park until bought by North Carolina, which won’t happen until Cooper’s proposed two-year budget is passed in the legislature, Director of the Division of State Parks and Recreation Dwayne Patterson said.
“It would be a transformational time for not just here but across the state if the budget goes through,” Patterson said.
Pisgah View Ranch has been owned by the Cogburn Family since the late 1700s and run privately since the 1940s. The property has rental cabins, horseback riding, swimming pool, tennis court and other amenities.
The estimated sale price of the land is about $18 million, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Reid Wilson said. About $14 million still is needed for the purchase.
“It’s got to get here somehow,” he said.
Money for the purchase could come from the state Parks and Recreation Trust and Land and Water funds, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund — though those funds have to be matched with state money — and private donors, Wilson said.
N.C. State Parks plans to use $18.5 million of the PRTF money, if allocated, to complete purchase of the Pisgah View property,
“Normally it would take the state five years to raise that money. This would allow the purchase to happen much sooner,” Hall said.
“This is the time when we need to be putting funds in the Land and Water Trust,” Cooper said. “This is the time where we need to make sure we expand our parks and provide for more employees to help us, so we’ve put significant resources into our parks, our zoos, our museums.”
When the purchase is complete, Pisgah View State Park will become the closest state park to Asheville, about a 30-minute drive from downtown.
It will be the 40th park added to the N.C. State Park System in the past 100 years and the sixth in Western North Carolina. The park system was established in 1916 with the creation of Mount Mitchell State Park in Yancey County.
Millions more in the state parks budget would go to improvements and expansion in WNC’s five other state parks, including Mount Mitchell, Chimney Rock, Gorges, Grandfather Mountain and Lake James, Hall said.
Shelby Harris is a reporter covering education and other topics. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @_shelbyharris.