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Chimney Rock, state park closest to Asheville, to grow

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12/7/2011 - Chimney Rock, state park closest to Asheville, to grow
by Karen Chavez - Asheville Citizen Times

CHIMNEY ROCK -- The N.C. Council of State on Tuesday approved the purchase of 1,222 acres at Rumbling Bald Mountain to expand Chimney Rock State Park by more than 20 percent.

State officials said the approval was the last step needed for the state to buy the significant tract of land north of the Chimney Rock attraction in Rutherford County for $4.2 million.

The news was a welcome surprise to park superintendent Adrienne Wallace, who said the parcel, made up of the Rumbling Bald and King tracts, will remain in its natural state for the foreseeable future.

"This land has been part of the Nature Conservancy's holdings and management for the past few years," Wallace said. "First and foremost, our mission is to conserve and protect. We're definitely moving our mission forward with the acquisition of this property."

The park was established in 2007 with land surrounding the Chimney Rock in the Hickory Nut Gorge, purchased from the Morse Family. This summer, the park released its first master plan, which will be implemented in several phases, and calls for future land acquisitions, construction of a visitor center and a new entrance road, trail improvements and new uses such as overnight camping, mountain biking and rock climbing.

Any new recreational uses for the newly acquired Rumbling Bald tract will come well into the future, Wallace said.

"As far as the Master Plan, design for that area is going to be primitive and will come in Phase 3," Wallace said. "We're still working on Phase 1."

The Nature Conservancy has held the Rumbling Bald tract since 2001 and the King tract since 2008, conservancy communications director Debbie Crane said.

"The King tract is a great buffer to the north of Chimney Rock State Park. It would allow for recreation that wouldn't be allowed in most of the other tracts, such as camping and mountain biking," Crane said.

"Rumbling Bald is a very amazing place. It is home to a wide variety of wildlife such as the yonahlossee salamander and different species of bats and rare plants such as the federally endangered white irisette."

The tract includes Rumbling Bald Mountain, the massive rock face that is visible from Lake Lure, steep cliffs, granite domes and mature hickory forest, Crane said.

"These two tracts together have everything to offer, from low and high elevations, rock outcroppings, interesting plants and recreation opportunities," she said. "It's a gift that the whole state will be able to enjoy."

The 4-year-old park, which attracts some 215,000 visitors a year, has been growing at a steady clip, Wallace said.

The first two tracts of land authorized for the park came to 643 acres in 2005, Wallace said. With Tuesday's announcement of the purchase of the Rumbling Bald tract, the park now comprises more than 5,700 acres.

"We've grown rather well in such a short period of time," she said.

Wallace said local landowners continue to contact the park to discuss selling their land, but the biggest impediment to acquiring new tracts of land now will be funding sources, she said.

The money used to purchase the Rumbling Bald and King tracts continues a pre-arranged schedule of Chimney Rock State Park expansion funded through dedicated sources approved by the General Assembly in 2007, said state parks and recreation spokesman Charlie Peek.

"The money comes from three trust funds -- the N.C. Heritage Trust Fund, the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund," Peek said.

"It's a tremendous buffer on the northern boundary of the park, and it offers a high quality natural community."

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