From the air — specifically a drone zipping overhead at 100-plus feet — it’s easy to see why hikers, bird watchers and dog walkers like Long Creek Park just the way it is.
Most of the 164-acre spot, purchased by the city in 2017, looks and feels like the golf course it once was.
It is lined by tall, mature trees and rolls gently along with the natural elevation of the land. City workers keep its (former) fairways mowed to reasonable lengths without dumping a boatload of chemical herbicides to leech into Muddy Creek. Paved paths, once used by electric golf carts, make for smooth, at-your-own pace walking.
“It’s perfect. I love it,” said Robin Kelly after finishing a morning hike.
Near the main entrance, at ground level, the view is a little different. Cracked and broken asphalt dots the parking lot, the fencing surrounding the pool is padlocked and the water looks a tad ... funky.
“What’s taking the City of Winston-Salem so long to complete Long Creek Park?” asked resident Joe Cassidy in an e-mail.
Finished, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. The answer really depends on how you define “park.”
The city, with a significant cash boost by the Conservation Fund bought Long Creek in 2017, a year after it closed, for $740,000. It dropped another $200,000 or so to engineers and landscape architects at Stimmel Associates to come up with a plan for just what to do with it.
After the requisite site study was completed, the Public Works Committee of the Winston-Salem City Council rolled out in September 2018 a grand master plan that included such amenities as a swimming pool, splash pad, new pool house, a dog park and picnic shelters.
That same year, 2018, voters approved $31 million in bonds for parks, including $3.1 million for a second phase of development at Quarry Park, so further expansion on the (relative) cheap made sense. William Royston, the director of the city Recreation and Parks Department, called it “low-hanging fruit” that could be turned around quickly.
Council member DD Addams of the North Ward said in 2017 that the Long Creek purchase was a long time coming for some 6,000 nearby citizens annexed into the city in 2006. “For constituents and residents on that end there were no parks,” she said.
Quarry Park, turbo-charged by public anticipation and juiced by a total of $7.1 million bond money, opened to great fanfare in summer 2017.
Meanwhile, in the eyes of residents such Cassidy, the newly christened Long Creek Park sat. And sat some more.
“Only recently, after 4 years, has the City demolished the old golf club house and outbuildings,” Cassidy wrote. “The existing golf cart path that many citizens use for walking, running and biking has deteriorated.
“The City has spent almost $1 million dollars on the property and after 4 years it still looks like an abandoned golf course instead of a beautiful city park.”
Cost of progress
Using the 164-acres as a golf course was never going to happen. Those things cost big money to maintain, staff and equip; that’s a big part of why it wound up closing.
Priced a golf cart lately?
But the pool, and its mechanical underbelly, appeared to be in good shape—and relatively easy to refurbish.
Figuring out what to do with Long Creek—and the pool—was relatively easy, and for $200,000, relatively inexpensive.
Paying for it, though, is another matter. In lean budget times, parks (and parks expansion) feel the squeeze. Cops, firefighters, sanitation and water/sewer service account for large chunks of the budget and generally have to take priority.
So from the time of purchase in 2017 through a year wrecked by pandemic into one beginning with rays of hope, Long Creek sat.
The old pool house was removed and pavement indeed deteriorated. But the grass stayed mowed—and the new park found a niche with active types. On a gorgeous Tuesday morning (before the final gasp of winter last week), that crumbling parking lot stayed busy.
“It’s great for day hikes,” said Paul Kelly, a fit-73-year-old out exercising with his son Robin. “It’s hilly and I have to train for it. But it’s not overdeveloped, which can be an expensive trap to maintain for public parks (departments) to keep up with.”
Still, good things come to those who wait.
The planned improvements are on deck. Some $2 million has been allotted using existing debt capacity, Royston said, which means the swimming pool renovations, construction of a new bath house, a picnic shelter and a parking lot rebuild will go forward this year.
Indeed, heavy equipment is standing by at Long Creek now.
“The NTP (notice to proceed) was issued in early January 2021 and construction is expected to be complete by the end of October/early November,” Royston wrote Thursday in an e-mail.