PHOTOS FROM DUKE ENERGY

Black Bear Access recreation park 1

For several years, Duke Energy and McDowell County have talked about a proposal by the electric company to lease land around the Black Bear Access Area to the county for recreation purposes.

Black Bear Access recreation park 2

For several years, Duke Energy and McDowell County have talked about a proposal by the electric company to lease land around the Black Bear Access Area to the county for recreation purposes. This map shows the improvements that are planned for the access area.

Black Bear Access recreation park 3

This map from Duke Energy shows the location of the planned day use area and the planned campground in relation to the Black Bear Access Area.

Black Bear Access recreation park 4

This map from Duke Energy shows the proposed features for a new campground near the Black Bear Access Area along Lake James. This section could have primitive campsites, trails, cabins, a fire pit, restrooms and picnic facilities.

Black Bear Access recreation park 5

This map from Duke Energy shows the proposed features for a new day use section near the Black Bear Access Area along Lake James. This area could have hiking trails, picnic facilities, picnic tables, restrooms, a fishing pier and a trail connecting the day use area with the boat launch section.

In the near future, a new recreation park will exist near the Black Bear Access Area on Lake James and it could include hiking trails, picnic facilities, primitive campsites, cabins, restrooms and fishing piers.

The proposed new park at Black Bear was discussed at a recent meeting of the McDowell County Board of Commissioners. Representatives from Duke Energy, which owns the land surrounding the Black Bear Access Area, gave a PowerPoint presentation about the future of that section next to the lake.

For several years, Duke Energy and McDowell County have talked about a proposal by the electric company to lease land around the Black Bear Access Area to the county for recreation purposes. This is part of the extensive relicensing process that Duke Energy went through with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which started in 2006. FERC issued a 40-year license to Duke Energy in November 2015, which required Duke to file a recreation management plan within one year. That plan was submitted by Duke Energy in November 2016 and approved by FERC in December 2017.

This recreation plan calls for 89 planned recreation enhancements over a 20-year period with majority planned in the first 10 years. It also includes improvements to 32 existing recreation sites and adding 26 new sites with a total investment of approximately $45 million in the first 10 years. More than $4 million will be disbursed with local governments and other partners to develop public recreation projects, according to Duke Energy representatives.

For McDowell County, this means a series of planned upgrades to the Black Bear Access Area and the land around it along Lake James. The access area is now maintained by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission through a maintenance agreement. State Wildlife Resources will still maintain the boat ramp area.

In addition, Duke Energy, which owns the nearby land, is offering to partner with McDowell County on the creation of a new recreation park at that location. The electric company has provided a site plan for a day-use area and an overnight camping area, along with the existing boat launch at the Black Bear Access Area.

The plan for the access area calls for a proposed welcome or interpretative station and proposed restrooms next to the parking lot.

Just south of the access area, the plans from Duke Energy call for all kinds of recreational enhancements in the day use area along the shoreline. This area could have hiking trails, picnic facilities, picnic tables, restrooms, a fishing pier and a trail connecting the day use area with the boat launch section, according to the plans submitted by Duke Energy.

Right next to the day area will be a planned area for overnight camping. This section could have primitive campsites, trails, cabins, a fire pit, restrooms and picnic facilities.

Under this partnership, Duke Energy will build the day use area as well as the campground and cover the construction coasts. The maintenance and staffing would be covered by McDowell County. If local officials want additional features, such as the cabins, the expense will be borne by the county, according to County Manager Ashley Wooten.

The county has the option to lease the area around Black Bear and add additional amenities for recreation.

“It is likely that an annual operation cost could be in the $50,000 to $75,000 range when maintenance and staffing are included,” said Wooten in a memo to the commissioners.

The county would be able to charge for the camping, but an employee would need to be hired to make sure the site is managed properly, he added.

These plans are conceptual and subject to change and there are more details to be worked out. Duke Energy representatives met with McDowell County in October to review the engineering plans and discuss a schedule for construction.

At this moment, Duke is in the engineering design phase and will begin permitting in the latter part of 2020. Construction could begin in 2021 and be completed by the end of 2022, if not sooner.

“It’s a large property and it’s a large project and we have tried to schedule this out so we meet those deadlines,” said Christy Churchill, project manager with Duke. “Duke Energy and McDowell County will need to consider coordination of construction activities to realize synergies and cost savings in contractor mobilization and closure downtime of access area.”

During this work in the near future, the Black Bear Access Area would be closed for a couple of months so some drainage issues can be addressed and new paving can be done.

She added there is more information on Duke Energy’s Web site at www.duke-energy.com/community/lakes/recreation-information/cw-recreation-enhancements

After hearing this presentation, Commission Vice Chairman Tony Brown asked “Where do we sign?”

Commissioner Lynn Greene said he is a camp host at Lake James State Park and he is amazed at the numbers of people who come from all over the United States to enjoy the natural beauty of McDowell and Burke counties.

“They come for the trails,” he said. “They come for the bike trails, the scenery, the hiking trails. I’m excited to death about it.”

Brown said he is excited about having cabins there and it would make the park more self-sustaining.

Commissioner Barry McPeters asked about the amount of time the access area would be closed for the improvements there.

Duke Energy officials said the amount of time it would be closed will be kept to a minimum and would probably be out of service for two months.

“Any closures we will put out a public notice,” said John Crutchfield, director of public safety and recreation planning for Duke.

The new recreation park could tie into the Fonta Flora State Trail that will connect Morganton with Asheville.

“It’s a grand slam,” said McPeters.

After hearing from the Duke Energy group, the commissioners voted earlier this month to approve the lease and move forward with this partnership.

“Thanks for your investment,” said Commission Chairman David Walker to the Duke Energy group.

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