There are nine existing Wake County parks, ranging from Blue Jay Point Park near Falls Lake in North Raleigh, to the Robertson Millpond Preserve in Wendell, and over to Harris Lake Park on the western side of the county. But a glaring hole in the map of Wake County parks and greenways is over the southern corner of the county – in Fuquay-Varina. Fuquay-Varina is the largest municipality in land mass after Raleigh and Cary, yet it is one of the few that does not have a designated Wake County park within its city limits.
A group of dedicated volunteers has been working for over a year to attract the attention of Wake County officials and transform a portion of the old Crooked Creek golf course into a park, and it might be the best chance this part of the county has to fill that park gap. The effort to transform the land along Hilltop-Needmore corridor started after the residents of the Crooked Creek neighborhood opposed the golf course owner’s plans to sell the property for development after they shut down operations in 2015.
The concept of a 220-acre park, utilizing the amenities that are already in place on the property, has gained enthusiastic support over the last couple of months, and volunteers are actively pursuing this project as it gains traction within the surrounding communities.
The most attractive feature of this tract of land is the existing improvements on it that will make it much less expensive to transform into a park facility. In Wake County, there is limited availability of large tracts of land, and none that compares to the Hilltop-Needmore site in terms of readiness and viability as a park. Because many of the components of a park are already in place – paved walkways, restroom facilities, electricity and plumbing, irrigation systems, and the original golf clubhouse building – the property will require much less time to development and save millions of dollars in building costs over that of raw land.
“This is the fastest growing area of the county, yet it’s the only area without a county park,” says Ron Nawojczyk, Project Lead for the South Wake Park Project. “This is the perfect opportunity to remedy that.”
The exciting story behind this park project, and what sets it apart from other, more typical park projects, is that the land owners have already signed a contract with the Conservation Fund to sell the land for the purpose of creating a regional park. This was a huge step for them after their initial plans to sell the land for more real estate development, and supporters of this project are determined to make the plan a reality!
If the Conservation Fund receives commitment of funding from Wake County and private/business donors before the sales contract deadline in July, the land will become a park. If the contract expires before the funding is achieved, the landowners will go back to their original plan to sell the property to a developer.
In 2017, organizers formed an organization called The South Wake Park Project that is dedicated to generating support and ultimately securing the funding needed to make the South Wake Park a reality. Since then, they have collected support from 1) The Conservation Fund, which has initiated the purchase of the land and are willing to finance the acquisition of property for 10 years; the Triangle Greenway Association, which is donating 80 acres of land to bring the total acreage to 300 acres; and 3) the Clean Water Management Fund, which is providing a $500,000 grant because the proposed park provides protection for the Middle Creek watershed.
Some of the conceptual elements of the proposed park, based on availability of funding, include playgrounds, a sculpture garden, wetlands, a festival lawn, a disk golf course, picnic shelters, fishing, a splash pad, boat rentals, sports programming (volleyball, tennis, pickle ball), a dog park, a wildflower meadow, an observation tower, and a sledding hill, among others.
“The prospect of losing this beautiful green space to more development was so disturbing,” says Sheree Ward, a park supporter. “Now, we have an opportunity to preserve it for generations to come.”
The proposed plans for the South Wake Park would significantly enhance the quality of life for all of the citizens of Wake County, making our area an even more appealing place to live, work, and play. The benefits to the citizens of southern Wake County are almost impossible to overstate. The park is located in a rapidly growing area that is densely populated with families who would make good use of a park. The property surrounds a proposed new elementary school – Hilltop Elementary School – where teachers and children would have easy access to the park for educational and recreational activities year round. Using the connections it would create through the greenway system, it would provide access to several other schools in the area as well.
The proposed park would also provide direct access to the already existing and planned greenways highlighted in the Wake County Greenway System plan that details the formation of a county-wide system of nature preserves with paved trails that interconnect across the 12 municipalities in Wake County. There are already 4.5 miles of well-maintained paved trails with bridges over streams and waterways. The property also includes established drainage, beautiful streams, wetlands, and ponds. There are two restroom facilities already built on the property as well as the original golf course clubhouse with bathrooms, showers, and a kitchen that could easily be renovated into meeting and event space. Prioritizing these facilities and fleshing out their definitions is one of the key pieces of work that will be needed as the proposal moves forward.
A regional park in southern Wake County will fill a geographical void in the current Wake County Parks & Recreation Master Plan, which envisions county-wide parks and open spaces that promote both passive and active recreation and leisure. This project would provide a combination greenway and park for southern Wake County.
With the deadline for the contract looming in the relatively near future, organizers of the South Wake Park Project are in high gear trying to generate awareness of the park’s benefits and looking for both private and public funds while they continue to negotiate with Wake County government to find the majority of the funding they need. There are ample ways to contribute to this project – donating funds, volunteering, and buying t-shirts that say “Park Please.” Contributions to the project go through the Conservation Fund and are tax deductible. Volunteers are still needed to help spread the word and energize the community to help encourage Wake County to take an interest in the project. T-shirts are only $20 – proceeds go to the Conservation Fund as well, and wearing the shirts increases visibility for the project as enthusiasm for it grows.
Residents who wish to help this growing surge of support for the South Wake Park concept can find information on how to get involved through the Project’s website at www.southwakeparkproject.com. Organizers are spreading the word about the opportunity to preserve the beautiful green space via social media, fundraising, media outreach, and word of mouth. There is a survey on the website that is gathering information and support from residents. One week after launch, the survey had been completed by over 1,300 people! The South Wake Park Project organizers hope that the enthusiasm will continue to grow between now and July. For more information about this effort, contact the project team at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.southwakeparkproject.com.