A Community Park for Christmas

Jenny Scarborough
The view as you approach Ocracoke's new community park.
The view as you approach Ocracoke's new community park.

Ocracoke received the best present ever for the holiday.

Like a January credit card bill, it has yet to be paid for. 

After signing papers over the weekend, the Ocracoke Youth Center announced that as of December 27, they are the legal title holders to a tract of land that will become the Ocracoke Community Park. 

Recreational ball fields, walking trails, environmental education, youth and adult sporting tournaments, and concerts are envisioned.  A building to house the Youth Center could be constructed in the not-so-distant future.

"If Vince [O'Neal] has anything to do with it, we're going to be playing ball in April," said Bill Rich, who helped negotiate the final contracts with previous owners Dal, Darren and Renee Burrus.

"This is good for everybody, and should have far reaching effects," said O'Neal, who has long dreamed of a baseball field where local youth can play the all-American sport.  There will be economic as well as recreational benefits to the community, and it won't cost taxpayers anything, said O'Neal.

The Ocracoke Community Park Committee began as an informal, voluntary working group that included OYC board members, parents, and people invested in the community, and now has several sub-committees charged with fundraising, and planning for the park.  This story from Ocracoke Current will help you learn more about how the dream is becoming reality.

The Burrus tract was the last holding large enough for the field of dreams, and Rich said he got chills when the call came through that it was now owned by the non-profit OYC.  The land will stay on property tax rolls, hopefully at a reasonable valuation, said Rich.

The land was purchased for $1.2 million, and the Burrus family is owner-financing 100% of the property at 3%, to be paid over the next ten years.  "They have been very good to us financially," said Rich. 

"This is really huge, and exciting," said OYC Treasurer Melinda Sutton.  "There have been lots of offers to donate, but we didn't want to take money until we owned it." 

That time has come, and fundraising to pay for the fields and park will kick off soon.  The Community Park group and OYC will need to raise somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000 per year to pay for the land and developing ball fields.  Every gift of labor and materials will offset that number.

The first gift in kind will be $60,000 worth of work filling and grading the property, provided by the sellers.

Many local individuals have already pledged to build different parts of the field, like dugouts, said O'Neal.  There will be plenty of naming opportunities for donors, including for the field itself. 

Until the necessary CAMA and Army Corps of Engineering permits are in hand, work cannot commence at the site.  The permits are anticipated to arrive in the next 75 to 90 days.  Payments for the property will begin when the permits are in place. 

Raising $200,000 per year in a community of 1000 people may seem like a steep order. 

"I feel as confident as you can feel," said OYC Board Chair Bob Chestnut.  "There is more passion about this than just about anything I've experienced in the 15 years I've lived here.  I'm super excited, and everyone I've talked to is super excited."

Money is needed to build fields and a Youth Center building, and otherwise improve the property.  Five balloon payments of $200,000 are also due.

Many individuals have volunteered a lot of behind the scenes work so the field and park can become a reality.  "The real hard part may be the financial planning that needs to happen in the year to come," said Chestnut.

Last spring, the Occupancy Tax Board recommended to Hyde Commissioners that $48,000 be provided from that fund for the Community Park.  They understood that OYC will ask for that same amount each year until the property is owned outright. This will cover the $4000 monthly mortgage payments. 

The commissioners approved that, plus an additional $12,000 for engineering and legal fees in 2012.  It is anticipated that elected county officials will continue to follow the recommendations of the appointed Occupancy Tax Board, who were told their $480,000 investment over ten years was crucial to making the park a reality.

"We are totally dependent on Occupancy Tax money," said Rich.

Grant money, both public and private, will be pursued.  Sutton envisions "raised boardwalk trails that hook into park land at loop shack hill," and notes that grants are available to create trails for outdoor education.  "It's beautiful back there," she added.

The property is high land surrounded by marsh.  The Ocracoke Preservation Society holds a conservation easement adjacent to the new park, and is willing to work with OYC to provide access to the land so locals and visitors can explore.  The National Park Service is receptive to walking and biking trails connecting through to public lands they administer.

The working group expects support from both the Hyde Commissioners and School Board.  $10,000 each year from both recreation budgets is a bargain for the county, which will gain a huge benefit from the park, said Rich.  School sports teams will be able to use the field, as will adult recreation leagues.

The committee envisions multiple uses for the park that will attract visitors to the island, like early and late season sports tournaments, and concerts. 

Because the group decided to have OYC make the investment, a local community non-profit will administer the land, and the possibilities are wide open.  It could host family re-unions, disc golf, and ultimate frisbee games. 

Rich and Greg Honeycutt, the committee's other fundraising chair, are putting their money where their mouth is.  Both have pledged significant financial support for the next ten years.

A site plan donated by Garick Kalna allows both a baseball diamond and soccer field to exist on the site.  Donors will be sought for baseball diamond fencing that can be moved so the world cup crowd can have athletic fun, too.  Futbol, on Ocracoke!

Donations can take many forms, said Sutton.  If you aren't in the position to write a large check, write a small one, and lend your labor to a fundraiser.  Help with clerical work and accounting is always useful. 

The committee will meet in January 2013 to organize fundraising efforts.


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