Seen from the soon-to-be trail head of the Mountains to Sea Trail off Covered Bridge Road, the town has roughly 120 acres along the Neuse River to develop into park land.
CLAYTON -- A focus group met this week to brainstorm and dream about what to do with a huge area of land the town acquired along the Neuse River near the Mountains to Sea Trail.
The group, consisting of town government employees, council members, Parks and Recreation advisory board members, Boy Scout troop leaders, school teachers, parents and college students met at the Clayton Community Center to talk about their vision for the 120-acre property.
The town hired Sara Burroughs, of Sage Design, to come up with a site plan for the future park. The design group came up with two general concept ideas for the group to consider at the meeting.
One concept is using the space in a way that would celebrate the agricultural history of the area.
“For that we talked about having a public access site where there are orchards and having you-pick-your-own kind of things,” Burroughs said.
There was not much support for that idea.
What really got people excited was the second concept: an environmental education-based use for the space.
There were a range of ideas of what that could include. Don Stephenson suggested using a smart phone app that would allow visitors to learn about the different types of vegetation at the site by holding their smart phone near different plants and trees. The smart phone would capture an image then find information about the park and natural areas.
Another idea, presented by Ryan Roberts, the Boy Scouts rep, was to allow camping on the property. Roberts emphasized making sure the park was all-inclusive especially for handicapped, special needs and autistic children.
Lauren Ramsey, an environmental studies teacher at Clayton High School, brought up the idea of an outdoor classroom. Ramsey said she would like to bring her students to the park to help fulfill curriculum goals like water quality testing.
She said there are not many resources on campus to conduct water quality testing. “I felt like that area could be useful for all of the high schools in the area for some of their science classes as a source that’s always there,” Ramsey said. Students could also observe population of insects, small mammals, and record that data over time as part of their studies.
Along with the potential to learn from the environment, there is an opportunity to hold team-building lessons there, Ramsey said. That could include having a ropes course or obstacle course on the site for students to do as groups, as well as for local volunteer groups and organizations.
Ramsey said since the cost of field trips has gone up due to the rising cost of gas, it would be great to have a local learning place. “If we have this local area within two miles of our school, surely they would let us take advantage that. That is my hope.”
According to Burroughs, the opportunity for adventure is another idea that many people at the meeting were excited about. “Everybody absolutely loved the idea of having a zipline on the site,” Burroughs said.
Also, the idea of having an amphitheater space was well supported by several people. Since part of the property includes a flat, open piece of land, it is ideal for having a space where the community can gather for special events, including concerts or festivals, said Burroughs.
At this point, there is no budget to minimize any idea. The purpose of the meeting was simply to create a bubble map of what the public is interested in. Next, that idea will be brought to the Brownfields program managers, who are working on the land. The N.C. Brownfields program remediates sites where there had been chemical dumping and makes them safe and usable. Forty acres of the site the town acquired belonged to DuPont, which used the land as an agricultural research site in the 1970s. That land will soon be ready to be put to good use.
The best part of this project is that “everyone that’s been involved so far has been really excited and enthusiastic,” said Burroughs. “Sometimes you get involved in a public space and there’s tension and controversy, but everyone is really supportive of this project and wants to see it transformed.”
The timeline for the project has not been set yet. Burroughs said she will meet with town manager Steve Biggs soon to talk about when the project could begin.