The primitive park — widely used by local outdoor enthusiasts — was named a conservation site last year by the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund. Town board members received $3.5 million in exchange for giving up development rights, and they are in the process of developing a management plan for the land.
Board members have high hopes more residents will start utilizing the site if mountain bikes and horses can share the land. However, members have several issues they must iron out before the park can become a hot spot for locals.
The park is in need of some upgrades, including a larger parking lot, signage and some trail maintenance.
The park is not very accessible, located at the end of Fisher Creek Road. Only locals know of the spot because there are no signs. Without any signs telling enthusiasts where to go, hikers may turn around before they reach the park because it looks like private property.
Another limitation is the parking lot, which is only big enough for up to eight cars.
“We really don’t have a parking lot,” Alderman Maurice Moody said.
If town board members allow horses on the trails, the parking situation will become even more limited. Moody says this needs to be addressed in order to handle the influx of visitors.
Additionally, the park’s trails lack the proper signage, which fails to tell hikers which way to go. Hikers must use their instincts and follow a worn path to the top of the mountain.
The trails have also sustained some wear and tear and need to be repaired.
Some trail maintenance was completed to the two trails, the East Fork and West Fork, by members of the Pinnacle Park Foundation, but additional work is needed, Mayor Brenda Oliver said.
The foundation—a nonprofit organization formed in the mid-1990s when the town stopped using the site as its source for drinking water—did oversee trail maintenance but was not able facilitate the type of infrastructure the park needs such as creating a bigger parking area.
Additionally, the trails are not handicap accessible, which town leaders have identified as a problem and are trying to fix.
“We started to make the trails handicap accessible but we have not built bridges over the streams,” said Oliver.
Both trails are considered strenuous so enthusiasts must be in moderate physical condition to reach to top.
Allowing horses and mountain bikes in the park are two options town leaders are mulling over. In the past, the town has been strict on who can use the park.
“We’ve been pretty restrictive of what we had in the park,” Oliver said.
Under the park’s current rules no horses or motorized vehicles like all-terrain vehicles are allowed.
Restricting the use of motorized vehicles is an issue all town board members agree on.
Town leaders have had problems with residents vandalizing the park by using motorized vehicles.
The town has had to pony up money to replace the park’s entrance gate five times, which was broken because of ATV riders, Oliver said.
Town leaders have been proactive about making the park a safe place. The park is patrolled by Sylva Police Department and the Jackson County Sheriffs Department; however, this area is not a top priority on their list.
Town board members also want to set up a designated primitive camping area for residents.
“It’s public property and we need to include as much access as possible,” Moody said. “This is an ideal area to take Cub Scouts.”
Alderwoman Sarah Graham agreed.
“This is a place where you can get into a wilderness setting and not be too far away from home,” she said.
Board members are considering allowing mountain bikes to roll down the trails as well. Alderwoman Stacy Knotts says many residents have inquired about allowing bikes in the park.
“We are between two places for mountain biking,” she said. The hope is that allowing mountain biking in the park it will create a haven for locals.
Town leaders are also mulling over allowing horses in the park, but this idea is a sticking point for some members.
Moody is advocating for horseback riding to be allowed. He says that riders can use former logging roads, which will not be harmed from horses wear and tear.
But not all members agree. Alderman Harold Hensley says there is not enough room for horses on the trails. He says at the top of the trailheads there is a limited amount of space at these points.
He added the trails could become bogged down with too many people if horses, mountain bikers and hikers are all sharing the same trail.
Members discussed the option of designating days of the week for horseback riding and mountain biking.
The other solution was to build additional trails in the park designated to these sports.
“I am not opposed to building additional trials,” Oliver said.
As a way to address these issues, town leaders are looking to residents for their help. The board is considering turning the foundation into a similar organization like the Friends of the Smokies or Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, as a way to increase community involvement.
“We can call in different people to provide their expertise or assistance,” Oliver said.
Hensley says he supports this idea, however, he thinks the foundation should only offer recommendations.
“They should be strictly an advisory board and any decisions should be made by the town board,” he said.
The foundation could raise money for park maintenance and recruit volunteers for help. Town board members plan to continue discussing the park’s plan at their next meeting on 7 p.m. on March 6.