Fair Bluff tries again for grant to convert destroyed downtown into riverside park

Engineer Bill Lester designed this layout for the 21.7-acre park with input from Fair Bluff residents and assistance from council members Kathy Ashley and Clarice Faison.

Engineer Bill Lester designed this layout for the 21.7-acre park with input from Fair Bluff residents and assistance from council members Kathy Ashley and Clarice Faison.

By: Diana Matthews, The News Reporter

Fair Bluff residents and visitors could be playing pickleball, shooting baskets, exercising their dogs and listening to music in what was formerly the river town’s business district if a state grant comes through to build a park envisioned by town leaders.

Fair Bluff’s town council unanimously approved plans April 5 for a 21.7-acre park, then voted to submit those plans to the state with a grant application.


One side of the design, prepared by engineer Bill Lester of LKC Engineering in Aberdeen, incorporates picnic shelters, gathering places and an openair pavilion/farmers’ market between the Lumber River and Main Street. There will still be riverwalk and boat ramp access. The park will butt up against a to-be-constructed new business district, Lester said.

Along the other side of the railroad tracks, Lester included spaces for active recreation,

including softball, volleyball, tennis, bocce, horseshoes, skating, camping, jogging and walking. The plan has two separate dog play areas: one for small dogs and another for dogs of all sizes. Lester designed the park’s amenities to accommodate community members’ suggestions. Council members Kathy Ashley and Clarice Faison worked closely with Lester since last fall to help form the plan.

Columbus County Cooperative Extension Director Dalton Dockery attended last week’s meeting and said afterward that he believes the proposed farmers’ market “will help the Fair Bluff economy and be a drawing card for local farmers to become more involved.” He said Extension may be able to help organize the market.

‘A long way to go’

Armed with the detailed drawings, the town will once again ask the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) for money to purchase and demolish about 40 flooddamaged properties to make way for the park.

A year ago Fair Bluff asked PARTF for $497,000. The state agency said the town needed to include a plan showing how it would reuse the space and how it would budget the grant money. Lester’s plan supplies both those requirements, Town Consultant Al Leonard said.

Leonard summarized council members’ hopes this way: “Fair Bluff’s recovery is going to take many, many more years. Acquiring the properties is only the first step toward creating a riverside park where downtown now stands. We have a long way to go, but we’ll go nowhere until we get ownership of those properties.”

The town will have Raleigh consultant David Hartigan complete the grant application and send it, along with the park plan, to PARTF in May. The state agency will announce its decision in October. If the town receives the $500,000 it is now asking for, it will match it using money previously allocated by the General Assembly for hurricane recovery.

Lester said it would be unfair to estimate completion time for the park project since funding will occur in phases, and some phases could take up to 24 months to complete. Environmental clearance, abatement and demolition would precede construction phases.

Part of overall recovery plan

“The hardest step in anything is the first step,” Leonard said. The next step will be up to state decision-makers.

The parkland project is part of a long-term hurricane recovery program, with $6 million already allocated by the General Assembly thanks to the 2019 Disaster Recovery Act.

Rep. Brenden Jones, Sen. Danny Britt and Sen. Bill Rabon all played a role in getting the $6 million for Fair Bluff appropriated by the legislature, Leonard said.

The 2019 recovery package included sums for canal dredging, street paving, other infrastructure, professional services, equipment and vehicles along with property acquisition in other areas of town.

Leonard said the legislators included $500,000 for parkland acquisition, and that is the sum Fair Bluff will use to match the PARTF grant if approved. Until then, that portion of the town’s recovery money “is sitting in the state treasury in Raleigh,” Leonard said.

All members of the council were present in person for the meeting. The agenda also included accountant Wade Greene’s presentation of the 20192020 audit, a report on occupancy and cash flow at River Bluff Pointe Apartments and routine monthly financial and police reports. Information about those items will appear in an upcoming edition of The News Reporter.