As most folks in Havelock know, there is a curvy little stream that cuts through the heart of the city called Slocum Creek.
Two prongs cut underneath U.S. 70, but it is well concealed under draped tree limbs.
Where it comes through the city, the little waterway is narrow enough to easily toss a pebble across.
Some look at the slow-moving, tannin-colored water as just a home for alligators, water moccasins and mosquitoes.
Others look beyond the possibility of getting bit by some critter. There is a wonderful water resource waiting to be utilized.
The city of Havelock is at the very exciting start of a project to make the best use of this rare water access point right in the heart of this municipality.
Planning for the development of the Historic Slocum Creek Recreation Area has been under way now for years and involves collaboration between a multiplicity, and public and private entities.
It reminds me of what happened in Manteo in the early 1980s when that small island town committed to revitalizing a downtown district that had been scarred in a 1939 fire that destroyed 26 buildings.
That waterfront area was, in large part, a jumble of empty lots filled with unsightly debris when I moved to Manteo to start my job as a reporter at the local paper in 1983.
Despite some opposition, a progressive mayor and supportive board worked with a team from the North Carolina State University School of Design to develop a plan for revitalization. Year by year, over the next decade, with cooperation from the state, the effort changed the face of the downtown into the thriving waterfront community that it is today.
The vision that Manteo leaders had to save their waterfront also reminds me of the vision New Bern leaders had in joining the public and private sector to create a new life for that downtown. When I was a child, my grandmother took us downtown to New Bern, and all I remember were empty streets and boarded up buildings. That is not the case at all today, as the vision to revitalize old New Bern came to fruition. Looking at the thriving businesses and streets filled with shoppers, one can hardly imagine the depressed period it had once gone through.
Now, Havelock is in line to benefit by the same forward-thinking spirit that turned around Manteo and New Bern.
It actually started as far back as the 1970s when members of the Havelock Planning Board sought to have the aging Church Road Bridge replaced.
We can see now that the circa-1924 bridge is gone and replaced this month by a new span decorated with attractive lighting fixtures and a pedestrian path.
The city has been quietly purchasing property on both sides of Slocum Creek and has recently developed a master plan to place kayak launches, extensive walkways, benches, picnic tables, a parking lot and water fountains overlooking the creek. Interpretive signage will detail the important link the creek had with a local grist mill, the North Carolina Railroad and the Civil War-era fort that once stood nearby.
Long range plans call for a bridge to be built linking an existing trail leading to the Havelock Tourist and Event Center.
Even longer range plans are to move the Trader Store and adjacent World War II-era train depot to the city’s new land, which will capitalize on the interesting historic aspect of the locale.
The Historic Slocum Creek Recreation Area will take shape right in the geographic center of Havelock. It will be linked from both directions eventually by pedestrian sidewalks that will afford easy access from both east and west ends of the city.
Municipal planners talk about “place-making” when they refer to this type of project. The Historic Slocum Creek Recreation Area fits this description aptly.
In the coming years, word will be getting out about Havelock’s new “asset,” and I have every confidence that local workers will be taking lunch breaks under the trees after a quick stroll across the footbridge. Others will be spending afternoons and weekends with family and friends paddling the calm waters of Slocum Creek followed by a refreshing cold beverage purchased at the century-old Trader Store.
And after we’ve all gotten used to spending time walking the paths up to, along and across Slocum Creek, we’ll need to remember that it wasn’t always that way. We’ll need to give a silent thank you to the visionary citizens and city planners who had an idea that made it possible for Havelock to be all it can be.
Drew C. Wilson is a reporter with the Havelock News. He can be reached at 444-1999 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.