By Mark Wineka
GRANITE QUARRY ó Granite Lake seems to hold a memory for everyone.
Families held many cookouts and picnics here. Young couples met for the first time at Granite Lake, and some eventually married.
Gangly teenagers used to dance here and, as children, they spent every day of their summers swimming in the cool, creek-fed waters.
Countless families passing through the town ó whose cars were loaded down for a week at the beach ó couldn’t help but turn their heads left as they drove by on U.S. 52 just to see all the people sunning and swimming.
It was the town’s landmark.
Paul Fisher, chief executive officer of F&M Bank, swam frequently at Granite Lake as a boy and remembers the big Wurlitzer jukebox that played the day’s popular tunes.
The bathhouse used to have big cracks in the floor into which a lot of loose change fell from people changing clothes.
Fisher knew that if he arrived at Granite Lake without enough money he could always crawl under the bathhouse and find coins that would get him through the rest of the day.
“Everybody grew up there,” Fisher says. “It probably saved some of us.”
Fisher theorizes that a lot more kids in eastern Rowan County would have been swimming in the dangerous quarry holes had they not had the option of the privately run and supervised Granite Lake.
Several years ago, after roughly 75 years in business, Granite Lake closed to the public.
It seemed to leave a void in the town, especially with the people who had all those sentimental memories.
At 11 a.m. Saturday, Granite Quarry officials will dedicate and open Granite Lake as a new town park. It took several trying, stop-and-start years and roughly $750,000 in grants, tax money and donations to make it a reality.
Fisher says Town Administrator Dan Peters and Alderwoman Eloise Peeler deserve a lot of the credit.
“If it hadn’t been for Eloise Peeler begging for money and the energy Dan Peters gave to this project, it never would have materialized,” said Fisher, who also helped facilitate things for the park’s creation.
Granite Quarry-based F&M Bank will sponsor Saturday’s park celebration, open to the entire community. F&M employees will be serving free Cheerwine and hot dogs and staging raffles for items such as fishing rods and bicycles.
The day also serves as the public’s first good look at the new park, which will be called Granite Lake Park.
“We had a gap in our social life, and this is going to re-establish that,” Fisher predicts.
“It’s a park in Granite Quarry, but it’s a community thing. We recycled an old memory into a passive park that sends a message to people riding through that we care.”
Unlike its well-known namesake, Granite Lake Park will not permit swimming. In fact, a fence surrounds the lake to block any access from the banks.
But the acre-sized lake will be open to fishing from two new piers, and the park promises to become a popular attraction for walkers, children and families as a whole.
The 8-foot-wide walking trails encircle the lake and also pass by the new children’s playground. A portion of the trail eventually will link up with Centennial Park, which lies behind the F&M Bank headquarters off U.S. 52.
It will create the town’s first extensive greenway.
The attractive Granite Lake Park incorporates many of the granite retaining walls and huge, spreading oak trees from the old swimming establishment.
Officials say it won’t be long before the spacious shelter, with a clock affixed on the top, begins being reserved for weddings, receptions, reunions and parties. The shelter provides a generous area for spreading out chairs, tables and food.
The park has parking for 61 vehicles. A granite marker, quarried in Rowan County, has been sent to Georgia for finishing and will be back in July to serve as the park’s entrance sign.
Peters says the lake, whose water supply comes from a refurbished well, will be stocked with fish around the time of the opening.
Significant donations came in for Granite Lake Park to provide the local match for a $250,000 grant from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Fund.
The Robertson Family Foundation contributed $100,000; the Cannon Foundation, $50,000; the Hurley family of Salisbury, $50,000; F&M Bank, $50,000; the Woodson Foundation, $5,000; and Wal-Mart, $1,000.
Peeler, whose grandfather Rufus Peeler originally established Peeler’s Lake (which later became Granite Lake) in 1926, headed up much of the efforts at fundraising. She still lives across from Granite Lake.
A.D. and Jane Powell funded the new Granite Lake fountain in memory of their son, Justin. It represented an $8,700 donation.
The movable, floating fountain sprays 7 feet high and 28 feet across. It has four white lights, but the town also has red, blue and green lenses to change the colors for various seasons and celebrations.
The town’s contribution came in the purchase of the park’s 6.75 acres at $77,000 a year over three years and its $6,200 buying of the acre tract which will serve as the connecting piece between Granite Lake Park and Centennial Park
Scout Troop 379 of Granite Quarry will assist the town’s maintenance crew in building the gravel walking trail along Trexler Creek to link the two parks.
There are still several opportunities for making donations toward the park. Citizens can buy sculptured bricks, which will be placed around the park’s flagpole. Each brick will be engraved in honor or memory of someone.
Donations also are being accepted for benches, tables, trash bins and grills ó all of which can be engraved, if the giver prefers.
Cash gifts also will be accepted, and the various levels of giving ó bronze, $500; silver, $1,000; gold, $2,500 and platinum, $5,000 ó will be recognized on a park plaque.
More information on the gift opportunities will be available at Saturday’s celebration.
Jim LaFevers chairs the town’s Parks and Recreation Committee, and Jody Shuping headed the subcommittee dealing specifically with the park project.
Other Recreation Committee members include Peeler, Jake Fisher, Gilbert Russell, Marlin Coughenour, Howard Brown Jr., Dwight Fraley, David Morris and Denise Miller.
Town officials consider the park one of Granite Quarry’s biggest projects ever. Fisher, head of F&M Bank, describes it as the best thing to happen in the town in its century-old history.
“We’re very proud of what’s been accomplished,” says Mayor Mary Ponds, who already has been taking morning exercise walks around the lake.
Park hours are expected to be 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., though they are subject to change.
When negotiations for the town’s purchase of the Granite Lake property stalled with the previous owners, Fisher intervened and after four to five visits was able to reach an agreement on what he considered a fair-market price.
F&M gave a risk-free promise to the town that it would buy back the property if it didn’t work out as a park. It also offered to fund a grant writer.
The project actually stalled, Fisher says, until Dan Peters came on board as town administrator. “It would have died without him,” Fisher adds.
Peters faced what he describes as “knots of red tape,” and as late as last June, the town still didn’t have the permit to build the lake. Peters found himself dealing with unfamiliar things such as earthen dams, wetlands and flood studies.
He credits Rowan County Planning and Development Director Ed Muire, former Rowan Parks and Recreation Director Jim Foltz, County Manager Bill Cowan and Salisbury City Manager David Treme with providing help he needed in seeing the project through.
Fisher and F&M again assisted in negotiating “an extremely fair price” for the acre of land that will join the parks.
“We did three years worth of work in a year,” Peters said.
A second phase could be in the park’s future that would include a community center.
“That park will be our signature brand,” Peters says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Mark Wineka