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HIDDEN GEM

by Daniel Schere

Bond includes partial funding for Quarry Park

daniel@yesweekly.com | @Daniel_Schere

Just off of Reynolds Park Road in Winston-Salem down a gravel path and through a maze of kudzu lies a natural wonder you might find in the mountains or at the coast. It is the site of an old quarry once used by the Vulcan Materials Company to obtain rock that could be used in construction. The quarry ceased operations in the early 1980s and in 1997 the city took over the property. Since 1989 the quarry has been filling with water, leading to a picturesque scene of a clear blue lake enclosed by steep jagged cliffs. Few people know it exists since visitors are not allowed down there, but that may change over the next couple of years.

City leaders have put plans in place to turn the 228-acre site into a multiuse park that will eventually include an amphitheater, disc golf course, additions to the greenway system and several picnic shelters.

Parks and recreation employee Lomark Barren said the quarry began operating in 1938 and was used primarily to build surrounding roads like US 52. He said the problems with the water filling in began around 1989 and became worse over the years. He said as recently as one year ago it was possible to walk around the entire perimeter of the lake, but the water now comes right up to the edge of the rock.

“It was coming in too fast to pump out so they just let it go and it just started filling,” he said. “With the moisture and the water, the quality of rock that was at the bottom wasn’t worth it. You couldn’t use it for anything.”

Barren said the city has never tried pumping the water out and there is currently no cost estimate for it. He said the city has talked about converting it to a park since 2009.

According to the master plan for the park, the quarry’s elevation ranges from 743 feet at its base to 950 feet at the top. If you look out on the lower level, you will see the sparkling blue lake set against a backdrop of the quarry walls. Toss a rock into the water and you will be able to see it as much as 30 feet underwater. From the top of the quarry the city skyline provides its own canvas, and on a clear day you can see Pilot Mountain.

Park Superintendent William Royston said the first phase of the project will cost about $4 million and would be funded by a parks and recreation bond totaling $30.85 million that residents will vote on in November. The total cost of the project is estimated at $25 million.

Royston said the first phase of the project involves putting in basic necessities like utilities and parking as well as 16 shelters.

“Part of that first phase is to also build a boardwalk that will come off of where our greenway currently ends,” he said.

Much kudzu and barbed wire remains, and Royston said the city would also need to perform an environmentally sustainable site cleanup before any other features can be added. According to the master plan, there is a 40-acre area that is overgrown with native plants and must be treated with herbicide.

“We don’t want any chemicals and things like that coming down into the water and causing problems with the ecosystem there,” he said.

Of the 16 shelters they plan to build, six will be larger corporate shelters that could be used for business meetings and would potentially generate revenue, which they could use to fund the park’s maintenance. Unlike Winston-Salem’s other parks, Royston said he thinks this one will see shelters used multiple times per day by different groups.

He said another difference to this park would be a fixed operating schedule during the day in order to provide more security. The main entrance will be located on Reynolds Park Road close to where the city’s public works facility is located. There will be a side entrance on Butler Street, which is the entrance that was originally used during the site’s days as a functioning quarry.

Royston said the original proposal was sent in September 2010 and the city council gave them money to hire a consultant. From there it took two and a half years to draft a master plan. He said it will take about 10 months for the construction contracts to be completed, but once that happens he is optimistic more substantial progress will be made.

“Hopefully by next summer we’ll have something that people can come out and enjoy,” he said.

Royston said he hopes to have the project completed by the summer of 2016. He thinks ultimately there is a strong economic incentive for creating such a park that locals and out-oftowners will flock to.

“There isn’t a resource as beautiful as that quarry is five minutes from downtown,” he said. “You’re connected by a greenway. We’re thinking

for us it’s going to be a regional draw. Very much like Salem Lake is. People from all over will want to come visit and enjoy the facility there.”

Royston said he thinks the unique setting of the quarry will make it attractive on a regional level and possibly draw visitors from up and down the east coast.

“There’s already a large amount of interest for that site, and people are beginning to know about it,” he said. “But once they see it, it’s not hard to appreciate. It’s almost like you’re in Colorado.” !

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