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Spencer Woods gets $206,000 state grant

SPENCER — With help from the LandTrust of Central North Carolina, Spencer has landed a $206,000 state grant to complete Spencer Woods, an educational park and 42-acre forest.
Private donors already have come forward to contribute the local match required by the grant, which was awarded to the town of Spencer by the N.C. Parks And Recreation Trust Fund, said LandTrust Executive Director Jason Walser. With the match, the town will have a total of $412,000 to implement the Spencer Woods Master Plan, including additional trails, parking, signs, benches, an observation deck, accessibility for disabled visitors and more.
“There’s not enough thanks that can be offered to the private donors who have made the project and both of these grants possible,” Town Manager Larry Smith said.
In 2011, a number of donors gave money to save the woods in honor of longtime conservationists Fred and Alice Stanback, and the preserve is now officially called the Stanback Educational Forest and Park. The LandTrust bought the forest from a Charlotte developer for $645,000 to save it from clear cutting.
Last year, the LandTrust sold Spencer Woods to the town for $200,000 and helped Spencer win an initial state grant to cover the purchase.
“We believe that this project now as much as ever is truly going to be a great thing for the town of Spencer,” Walser said.
The new implementation grant comes as Spencer enters the second year of the Small Town Main Street program, a state-directed downtown revitalization effort that overlaps with the development of Spencer Woods, which is within walking distance of downtown.
“This will start tying together all the different components of Spencer Woods, which include downtown, the Stanback walking loop and the transportation museum,” Smith said.
The grant will allow the town and LandTrust to take Spencer Woods “to the next level,” with educational programming and better access to the park, Walser said.
State funds and the local match will pay for improvements and development inside the forest, not land acquisition or creation of the walking loop, which are future phases of the master plan. Winning the grant is another step in the process, Smith said, “a huge step.”
“We knew we had a really strong application,” he said. “It’s been such a well-received project in the community.”
Smith thanked the LandTrust staff and board of directors for their initiative and “incredible support,” as well as dozens of volunteers who have helped forge primitive trails and other improvements during work days. Boy Scouts also have been instrumental in constructing trails within the property during the past year, making Spencer Woods accessible to many, Smith said.
He called Spencer Woods “a truly inspirational success story from its inception” and thanked Spencer aldermen for their support.
Additional work on the park should begin in early 2014, as well as formation of the nonprofit organization that will oversee and maintain the property. The arrangement will mirror the way Hurley Park in Salisbury operates.
The LandTrust has about $10,000 that was earmarked for Spencer Woods development that now can go to setting up the nonprofit and park maintenance, Walser said.
Park improvements will include trails for strollers and wheelchairs, a boardwalk, new bridges, parking areas for school buses, picnic tables and benches, he said. Money also will go to controlling invasive species like kudzu.
A new park access area will be constructed behind a nursing home on Salisbury Avenue. Access points already exist on Rowan Avenue and 11th Street.
Owls, rabbits, spiders, hawks, possums, snakes, squirrels, woodpeckers, ducks, raccoon, coyote and more call Spencer Woods home.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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