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Kitty Hawk turns down NC Parks and Rec Trust Fund grant

After hearing from a dozen different speakers, Kitty Hawk Town Council voted March 15 not to accept a $69,408 North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant.

Money from the grant, issued by North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, was intended to help fund a connection between Kitty Hawk Park at 900 West Kitty Hawk Road and a 1.8 mile trail located in the Kitty Hawk Woods Preserve next to the park. Town manager Andy Stewart said in February there was also a $47,592 grant from the Dare County Tourism Bureau and, while together the $117,000 in grant funds would not cover 100 percent of the project, the trail connection would be a welcome recreation addition for the town.

At the beginning of Monday’s meeting, Mayor Gary Perry explained that use of town owned conservation land has been discussed for several years and the idea of building an access from nearby county owned Kitty Hawk Park, where parking and other amenities already exist, seemed to be a workable plan. Volunteers would be used to clear any existing overgrown paths that run the entire ridge with a connection at Sandy Run Park added later. Considered mostly marsh acreage, there are several high ground ridges that would make excellent hiking and biking trails.

Although the reserve of just over 460 acres of land stretching almost all the way from West Kitty Hawk Road to Birch Lane Trail is owned by the Town of Kitty Hawk, it is managed by the North Carolina Coastal Reserve.

Perry went on to say while North Carolina Division of Coastal Management has been aware of the intent and progress of the project, it was a shock to learn that Coastal Reserve Program staff would require a memorandum of understanding regarding construction of the access and that bikes and horses would not be allowed on the town owned land. Perry went on to say that Coastal Reserve Program staff eventually backed off on prohibiting horses, but insist that bikes not be allowed and signs have been posted on trails that bikes are not allowed.

Perry then opened the floor for public comments to help council decide whether to accept a grant with restrictions or use town funds, which would provide other options as a town project.

With a limited number of people allowed inside due to COVID restrictions, about 40 others waited outside in the parking lot.

Among the speakers in favor of constructing an access was Paul Henriques, who said bikes were part of the 1998 plan for the property since day one. He went on to say that there is no evidence of anyone from Coastal Reserve maintaining trails. Trail riding has gone on for some time and only recently did signs go up that bikes were not allowed.

GRANT

Paul Henriques. Philip S. Ruckle Jr. photo

According to the plan, horseback riding and mountain biking are two increasingly popular uses of the Reserve area, but it must be recognized that they do impact the natural system.

A number of people said they have been biking the trails there for years.

Only one person, Summer Casper, spoke against adding a crossover to the woods. Her opposition was that adding access could mean more people cutting through her horse pen. In addition to trespassers, she said there has been destruction of property by trail users.

Councilman Jeff Pruitt said he understood that concern and noted that a marked connection point from the West Kitty Hawk Road park might help cut down on people crossing private land to get out of the woods.

The vote to decline the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant by council was followed by a closed session with town attorney Casey C. Varnell, who advised after the session that council gave him direction and he will act on that direction.

After the meeting, Stewart explained that the Tourism Board grant would not be affected and is still available. He added that the vote does not change management of the property, but that there would be additional discussion to try to work out a compromise on any restriction.

The N.C. Coastal Reserve Program was contacted for comments but had not responded by press time.

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