Friday, July 28, 2006

State to Charlotte: Tough beans

Pick up any North Carolina state road map. Look at the close-up map of the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. It’s liberally splashed with green: William B. Umstead State Park, Eno River State Park, Falls Lake State Recreation Area around Falls Lake, Jordan Lake State Recreation Area surrounding Jordan Lake.

Look at the close-up map of the Charlotte area. No state parks. The closest are Crowders Mountain State Park, west of Gastonia, and way at the tippy top of Lake Norman you’ll find modest Lake Norman State Park.

This lack of state largesse for parks around here has bugged me for years, just on general equitability grounds. I note the Triad – Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point – has a similar lack of state parks. What ticked me off afresh was a three-article package July 16 in the Neighbors of Lake Norman section of the Observer: “520 miles of shoreline. 125 yards of beach.” (Click here and here to see the rest of the package.)

Yep, that’s the only public swimming area on all of Lake Norman. Compare: B. Everett Jordan Lake in the Triangle serves the state’s second-largest metro area. It’s less than half the size of Lake Norman – 14,000 acres of water to Norman’s 32,500 – but has six public swimming areas. Who runs them? You guessed it: the state

Yeah, yeah, it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison: Jordan Lake was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Norman by private Duke Power Co., now Duke Energy. Duke acquired all its lakefront land decades ago after being granted the power of eminent domain, because building electric power plants was in the public interest. But in terms of lakefront access, the general public hasn’t benefited much, from what I see, at least not compared with the general public that’s getting the use of those state recreation areas in the Triangle.

Sure, Duke was willing to SELL the land. Mecklenburg County taxpayers have paid millions over the years to preserve land along the Duke Power lakes at McDowell Nature Preserve, Latta Nature Preserve and around Mountain Island Lake. And yes, the state helped a bit with some of those purchases, primarily through Clean Water Trust Fund grants.

But as far as major money for major state parks? From what I see, the state’s response has been: “Tough beans, Charlotte.”


Anonymous said...

Where would you like these parks to go? All you do is complain, but provide no input as to where suitable locations for these parks might be. Has the state flat out denied money to proposed parks? If that's the case, then i can see the reason to argue this point, but i don't know if that's the case.

Perhaps the reason we don't get any money is because no one has truly provided a good location for a state park in the area. You can't just pick some land and say let's make a state park on the lake or on that huge tract of farmland. I would love to see more parks, don't get me wrong, but it just seems that perhaps there aren't areas in close proximity available or none that meet requirements to become state parks.

I'd rather argue about why there seems to be such a missapropriation of transportation funds to Charlotte as opposed to Raleigh and the Triad. That may be a bit more pertinent than arguing about a lack of state parks. But i guess that's not the case.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous poster. Perhaps if Charlotte or the surrounding areas found a place for a park and asked the state to create it, we'd have more success. There are lots of other times where the Raleigh says "tough beans" to Charlotte - transportation and schools for two. The Triad's even worse off for transportation funds. (When is I-74 going to be built? The Greensboro Beltway? What's that?)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps if the area in and around Eastland Mall was bullldozed and turned in to a large park, the crime would drop and the taxpayers of this county would have to pay less to support the area?

Anonymous said...

Tough beans is right Mary. Allegedly we have some of the most powerful legislators in the General Assembly, but we are constantly shortchanged in most all major efforts. John T

Anonymous said...

Nothing more that Raleigh folks and 'Down easters' sticking it to Charlotte again and again. Notice how we can't get I-485 completed, yet and eight-lane loop south of Greensboro is built in less than five years? Same thing with parks, etc. The state loves our wealth and the tax dollars it brings to them, but they hate giving back anything that would help improve our area. Gott love being a 'donor county'.


UNCCPA said...

I keep reading how Charlotte is slighted in the state legislature. Just because Charlotte is the biggest city, doesn't mean it is entitled in any way to a greater share of the state pie. As a native of Eastern NC, I'll tell you why Charlotte can't get bills through the legislature or a governor elected. Charlotte has powerful legislators, but not all of them. When Charlotte's leaders stop trying to compete with the rest of NC--like campaigns to relocate the ACC HQ from Greensboro, relocate the NC School of the Arts from Winston Salem to Charlotte--then maybe citizens of Charlotte will get what they want. Start acting like an integral part of the Great State of North Carolina, instead of the lone Great State of Mecklenburg. If the legislators from the rest of the state don't view Charlotte as a threat, maybe they'll start voting for your bills.

Anonymous said...

I think there's only a slim element of truth to that last comment, and in fact it's also a bit naive. Efforts to locate economically lucrative events and entities are simply signs of competetiveness, and that's a fairly natural economic impulse. And the habit of legislators from other areas combining to deny adequate resources to Mecklenberg predates by quite a while efforts to relocat the ACC or the School of the Arts.

Mecklenberg is a net donor county with respect to most of the remaining counties in the state: we provide far more revenue to the state than we consume. And the simple fact is that legislators from the other counties want that money and can combine to obtain it. That's really little more than a combination of greed and electoral politics: the desire and ability to remain in office by "bringing home the bacon."

The result is that the most populace county gets shortchaged with regard to state responsibilies far more important than State Parks. Dramatically under-funding prosecutors is inexcusable and short sighted, for example. Improving state roads based on anything other than usage is foolish. The list goes on.

If the real reason were what the writer desrcibed -jealousy and petty efforts at "payback" it would hardly be noble. And if the effect were simple recreational opportunities it would be little more than an inconvenience. But in fact the real reason is shortsighted greed and the effect is on the economic well-being of the state, not just the county.

The unfortunate fact is that neither the legislators from those counties nor the people who elect them have enough enlightened self interest to understand that when the largest. most economically energetic and most visible county and city are tapped as an economic resource for the rest of the state, it is in everyone's interest to pay attention to not injur the golden goose.

tarhoosier said...

It is not park land and water access alone. I came to Charlotte more than 30 years ago and was then surprised at the limited state park commitments in the state as a whole, not only in this region. It is an embarrassment. Beyond your recognition of the state park availability in the Triange consider: The Triangle area has three state universities plus the state School of Math and Science, as well as the state Medical school and Dental school, Public Health, several graduate programs in Life Sciences which UNCC does not have; the state museums complex; the State Art Collection; the State Symphony (when has it played here). Also an inner and an outer belt road, two long distance Amtrak routes, one connecting in Selma-Smithfield and one in Raleigh. This could go on for quite a while.
The Triad has four state universities, including the renowned NC School of the Arts, to our one, and the state Zoo in Asheboro is closer to the Triad than to Charlotte.
Charlotte has been awarded none of the cultural or specialty educational institutions of the state, not to mention the paucity of parkland. State government was housed here in the Polk building, most well known for its crumbling facade and imminenet collapse. This is the regard in which the Charlotte citizens are held in Raleigh. Are we a net donor to the state? Perhaps victim or "mark" would be more like it.

Rick said...

I'm not sure what the argument is here - an admitted use of an apples/oranges comparison and Crowders Mtn is too far away?!?!? Most people want to get out of the city when they go to "the great outdoors."

I'm not an anti-park or anti outdoors person. In fact I just got back from an annual weekend camping/canoe trip. This one was on the New River up in VA/WVA. It was an amazing trip, and there was no state or federal parkland involved. We did stay at a semi-private municipal campground that was right on the river. The campground land was bought by a group of locals to prevent developers from getting it. Then the land was donated to the town to be run as a campground. (We got this information from our outfitter.)

Maybe that type of thing could be a good idea if Charlotteans are so desperate for more water access.

There's a lot more that could be said about the differences between Lake Norman and Jordan Lake, but that will have to wait until another post.

David McKnight said...

Thanks for this column, Mary.

Two of the two hardest things I ever tried to do in the state of North Carolina were:

1. Trying to be a Tar Heel--er, make that, a North Carolinian, at Duke University, and,

2. Getting someone to offer a Rodney Daingerfield tip-of-the-hat to Charlotteans here in our splendid Capital City of Raleigh.

On the first challenge, I failed miserably. The Duke people found out I was a Tar Heel fan growing up, so they have put their vaunted bureaucratic politicos on me ever since, and my Carolina friends just shrugged and said, "Serves him right for going to Duke in the first place," so that's why I spend most of my research time at State!

On the second challenge, most adroitly, effectively and eloquently addressed in your column, I think that after more than three decades of working on this problem, I may have come up with the answer:

When you say, "What about Charlotte?" here in Raleigh, the good people in state government seem to think you're talking about Charlotte County, Va., just across the state line to the north where Patrick Henry used to gallop to and fro on his various and sundry rounds, and so they think this is out of their jurisdiction!

Then when you ask, "Well, what about Mecklenburg County?" they say, "Look, they've a Mecklenburg County too, just over the state line right there at South Hill, so what are you trying to do--give away half our appropriations to the Commonwealth of Virginia?"

At least Mecklenburg County, Va., and Mecklenburg County, N.C., are both on Interstate 85, so you might try you luck writing an editorial appeal to the State Highway Department.

As for state-funded recreational facilities, the only solution now is to elect Parks Helms to the Mecklenburg state legislative delegation and then challenge him to see if he can get to know the rest of the members of the General Assembly on a "first-name basis."

Rick said...

Where is the "get over it" crowd?

Typically on this forum, there are lots of people from the political left telling everyone who cares about fiscal responsibility and responsible government to "get over it".

When we say "taxes are too high in Mecklenburg County", they say get over it.

When we say "light rail does not provide a good cost-benefit for the money", they say get over it.

When we say "the arts are not as important as crime, education, and roads", they say get over it.

But when the topic is more resources for state parks and Charlotte is not getting equal treatment for the tax money we pay, you can hear the crickets chirping.

I thought part of being a world class city WAS paying more than you should for what you receive. At least that is usually the typical refrain.

Sarcasm intended...

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