Forsyth County has won a state grant to pay for buying more than 200 acres on Belews Lake for a new county park.
Assistant County Manager Damon Sanders-Pratt told county commissioners on Thursday about the grant, which will allow the county to acquire 216 acres from Duke Energy Corp. at a cost of $640,000. The county plans to proceed with the purchase shortly, but there's no timeline yet for development of the property.
The grant comes from the state's Clean Water Management Trust Fund.
"We don't really have a facility on a lake like that, and we don't have a significant amount of park resources in the northeastern part of the county," Sanders-Pratt said.
In 2015, an open-space plan identified the Belews Lake area as a potential site for a regional park.
Sanders-Pratt said the site is clean and has no environmental issues such as the coal ash basin that is at the center of controversy at Duke Energy's Belews Creek Steam Station in Stokes County.
In 2018, county officials said the site appeared to be in excellent condition and used as a woodland buffer zone for the Belews Lake watershed.
During Thursday's briefing session of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, Sanders-Pratt held up his phone and played the voice message he got from Damon Hearne, of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, informing him that the county had won full funding for the purchase.
The land is near the intersection of Belews Creek and Craig roads, with extensive lake frontage. Planted in pines, it would eventually have been clear cut by Duke Energy had the county not expressed interest in the property county officials said.
Now, the county will look for ways to develop walking trails, picnic areas and other less-intensive park uses. There won't be a boat dock, but a fishing dock is likely, officials said.
County Manager Dudley Watts introduced the grant announcement as some much-needed good news.
"It is the first publicly-accessible park on Belews Lake," Watts said.
The county agreed with Duke Energy in 2018 to buy the land for $640,000, which is half-price for the county. Because the grant from the Clean Water fund is a matching grant, the county can can claim the excess value of the land as its match. Also included in the matching funds are another $65,000 for purchasing costs.
To get public input on what should be at the park, the county had held two public meetings and sent out more than 6,000 questionnaires.
While people said they wanted canoe and kayak access in addition to hiking and fishing, Sanders-Pratt said one of Duke Energy's conditions was that there be no boat ramp and that the park activities be more on the passive side.
Some people who live near the park site had also told county officials that they were worried about the impact of more people, cars and boats using the area.
"We think it will be good for the area," Sanders-Pratt said of the county's plans. "We will staff it, clean it up on a regular basis, and it will be more eyes on that region. We will be a good neighbor as we are at all of our parks."
The county has a 492-acre park off Germanton Road called Horizons Park, and the smaller Kernersville Lake and Walkertown Community parks, but none of those are really close to anyone in the northeastern part of the county, Sanders-Pratt said.
William Lewis, the assistant director of business operations for the county parks, said he shepherded the grant application process, but that a budget for how the park develops remains to be decided.
"There are pines on it and a lot of shoreline," Lewis said. "That is the good thing about it. It is going to be a nice addition for that part of the county."
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