One official after the other from the public and private sector had glowing words of support at a dedication of the Historic Slocum Creek Recreation Area Tuesday evening in Havelock.
Held under the Rotary Club gazebo outside the Havelock Tourist and Event Center, the event brought together all of the players in a multi-facet, multi-phase project to convert a winding stretch of Slocum Creek into a center for history, preservation, recreation and education.
“This is all about partnerships,” Havelock Mayor Jimmy Sanders said. “This has been a dream and a desire for some of us for a long time; however it wasn’t until 2012 that actions replaced desires.”
Sanders pointed out that a Coastal Area Management Act grant, the N.C. Coastal Land Trust and the Harold H. Bate Foundation joined with the city to get money to purchase property along the creek off Church Road.
The heart of the project is 2.5 acres that sit on a bluff overlooking 285 feet of frontage on Slocum Creek. Funding for the purchase of the property included $133,000 from the Coastal Area Management Act, $25,000 from the N.C. Attorney General Environmental Division and $20,000 from the Bate Foundation through the Coastal Land Trust and $7,000 from the city.
John Thayer Jr., manager of planning and public access for the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, said a grant application to CAMA for picnic tables, permanent grills, two kayak launches, benches, trash receptacles, gravel driveway and signage is likely to be approved. That would be an $81,000 grant in which the city would be required to spend $20,300.
“It is in the running and it is being looked on very favorably,” Thayer said.
“I think that the town should be proud and this is one of the better examples of public/private planning,” Thayer added.
Long-range plans call for a footbridge across the creek linking access to the Tourist and Event Center, where exhibits managed by the Eastern Carolina Aviation Heritage Foundation detail the history of Marine Corps aviation and of Cherry Point. Other plans call for the historic Trader Store and the adjacent World War II-era train depot to be moved to the site.
“This all began 12 years ago when the Rotary had the vision to make access on Slocum Creek,” Sanders said.
Today, fishermen and recreational boaters use the CAMA-funded boat ramp to access the creek and the nearby Neuse River.
“Our long-range plan is for this to become the history center of Havelock,” Sanders said.
At or near the site are remains of an old grist mill and remains of a Civil War-era fort.
Sanders said that one of the big drivers was the move of the old Church Road bridge, which afforded better access to the area.
“This is a perfect example of what we can do when we all work together,” Sanders said.
The group is also working with corporate sponsors on the project such as Duke Energy.
“It will enlarge the Havelock community and that will enhance the natural environment,” said Millie Chalk, a district manager for Duke Energy.
Robert Mattocks, of the Bate Foundation, said Harold Bate would have been proud to contribute to this project.
“Harold was a naturalist. He accumulated his wealth from the land in the timber industry,” Mattocks said. “Harold Bate would be very pleased to be involved in this.”
Lt. Col. Brian Blalock, executive officer at Cherry Point, called the project a “good news story.”
“This particular project here at Slocum Creek, which is a mere stone’s throw away from Cherry Point, the nation’s largest Marine Corps air station, will undoubtedly improve the quality of life for many Havelock residents and military families who can get out and enjoy this beautiful area,” Blalock said.
After several speeches, about 60 people in attendance ventured down a path to Slocum Creek to an overlook where the property for the recreation area is located.
Scott Chase, a former Havelock planning director who is credited for building the coalition of parties and facilitating the project’s beginning, came from Raleigh to be a part of the event.
“It’s exciting,” Chase said. “It will be interesting to see it come together over the next few years.”
City manager Jim Freeman said that clearing and other site preparation could be underway within the next 12 months, followed by other features as grant monies are received.