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Spencer Woods gets nod from aldermen

SPENCER — The Spencer Woods passive park came one step closer to reality Tuesday with the unanimous blessing of Town Board members.
Aldermen, once split on the project, embraced a 38-page master plan for the forest and praised everyone involved, from the LandTrust for Central North Carolina, which saved the land from clear cutting, to the volunteers clearing trails on the property.
Based largely on designs and recommendations from volunteer landscape architects who studied Spencer Woods for three days last year, the master plan offers ways to make the 42-acre forest accessible to the public while maintaining its primitive environment.
The broad vision includes primitive trails, an observation deck that doubles as an outdoor classroom, a 1.75-mile walking loop from the woods through the heart of Spencer, simple footbridges, boardwalks and more.
There was no price tag attached to the master plan, and aldermen approved only the vision for Spencer Woods. In January, the LandTrust will ask aldermen to approve the budget.
Phase I improvements total roughly $421,000. LandTrust and the town will apply for a grant from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund to cover half the cost.
Private donors have pledged enough money to cover the remainder, said Jason Walser, executive director for the LandTrust.
“We have private donors who have come to us and said they would like to see this implemented sooner rather than later,” Walser said.
Although the town will own the property — Spencer is buying the forest from the LandTrust with another $200,000 state grant — the town does not need to contribute money, Walser said.
“We would not expect the town to provide anything at this point,” he said.
The proposed budget covers:
• $131,000 11th Street trailhead and wetland interpretive area
• $34,000 stabilized trail construction, 800 linear feet and eight feet wide
• $50,000 South Rowan Avenue trailhead and outdoor classroom
• $15,000 South Rowan Avenue improvements
• $10,000 Magnolia Gardens trailhead and connector trail improvements
• $78,00 8th Street ballpark connector trail
• $24,000 8th Street ballpark trailhead
• $76,000 contingency, survey, design, permitting, etc.
Walser said he thinks the cost estimates are “quite high” and with volunteer labor and donated materials, there likely would be significant grant money leftover for other projects and maintenance. Eagle Scout candidates and churches already have offered to lend a hand, he said.
The Spencer Woods project is moving faster than anyone expected.
“The LandTrust has been quite honestly surprised by the outreach and level of community support to make this happen,” Walser said.
At least 25 volunteers have shown up at every work day, and private donors have generously supported the project, he said.
In honor of the Stanback family’s contributions to conservation statewide, Spencer Woods officially would be named the Fred and Alice Stanback Educational Forest and Park.
Walser said things are moving quickly because donors are excited about the woods.
“There is an opportunity for Spencer to get private donations because of the enthusiasm that surrounds the project,” he said.
If the town applies for the state implementation grant, Spencer would sign an agreement with the LandTrust detailing roles and responsibilities.
“That’s when you need to do your gut check,” Walser said.
Regardless, the primitive interior park trails will happen, he said.
Bob Pendergrass, a member of the Spencer Woods planning committee, said much of the trail work will be finished Saturday.
Volunteers “are just chomping at the bit to go out and do some work,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jim Gobbel, calling the park a great asset for Spencer.
Community support has come from all corners, Walser said. A farmer in Mt. Ulla stopped him recently to ask about the project.
“The amount of positive comments has surprised me,” he said.
The LandTrust has received no negative feedback, other than several residents near the woods who asked Walser “to keep people as far from our home as possible.”
“We have done that as best we can,” he said.
For the most part, people who live next to the woods will not see park users, and the LandTrust plans to find a way to close the park at night.
“The LandTrust has to a large extent put our credibility on the table with this project,” Walser said.
The planning committee wants to make the venture as successful as possible, and that includes making sure surrounding property owners are happy, he said.
“We want this to be a place of pride for the community and LandTrust, and we are going to do everything we can to make that happen,” Walser said.
Mayor Jody Everhart and Alderman Jeff Morris praised the LandTrust for involving the community and nearby residents in the planning.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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