By Pete Zamplas
The Park at Flat Rock is catching on as a site for group special events, in addition to nature walks.
Village of Flat Rock general fund expenses total $2,260,880, Village Administrator Patricia “Pat” Christie noted. The Park Operation and Maintenance Budget is $468,200 — 20.7% of overall spending, she said. Christie is also zoning administrator. She previously was Mills River’s rec director and zoning enforcer. In mid-2018, she succeeded Judy Boleman, who retired after six full-time years.
“Trails are clearly the most popular feature” of the park, Mayor Bob Staton stated. Trails have consistently topped the list of park priorities, in several surveys of Flat Rock taxpayers who foot much of the bill.
The park has operated for over five years, opening Dec. 20, 2013. It was a farm, then a golf course named Lost Diamond then Highland Lake after the adjacent road near Ingles and the Spartanburg Highway. Just south of the park is Highland Golf Villas.
The 66-acre park retained the flowing golf terrain, and 1.4-mile exterior (cart) path. The trail was named in September of 2017 in honor of the late Ed Lastein, who designed initial park plans.
Overall path distance was doubled to 2.8 miles, by adding interior paths and extending and outer segment along S curves of Highland Lake Road. Newer trails materialized thanks to over $164,000 in Trails Campaign donations and nearly $400,000 total including Richard E. Eppler, Jr.’s $230,886 estate gift for general park use, according to town officials.
The added paths led to dedication on June 23 of last year of the 2.8 miles of trails. There are many sub-trails, named after donors. The park’s perimeter trail runs along a scenic creek, in back on the west side. Volunteers are trail monitors, and soon as a trained and uniformed park host.
Cyclists share the paths. There are doggy doo doo bag dispensers on both sides of the parking lot, by paths. Daniels said trail users seem to “take pride” in keeping the park clean.
A bonus is spotting such wildlife as snapping turtles, two herons, an heron-like Virginia Rail, red-winged blackbirds, bluebirds (in bird houses), geese and ducks, though also snakes, Wilkerson added.
Christie said “walking on the trails remains a personal favorite.” She likes various features, noting “everything has been built with an eye to detail.”
Financially, Christie said, “The Village has demonstrated its commitment to park development and is very proud of all the amenities that have come online. The playground, trails, and pavilions are something all Flat Rock citizens can be proud of. The park offers a place for all generations to come to, and to enjoy some time outside.”
“Beautify and enhance” is the ongoing park mission, Dir. of Development Tracey Daniels said. Much landscaping has gone on, with planting of trees. “Reforestation” is taking root in a “diagonal swab” in the southwest corner, Wilkerson said. Sassafras and Black Gum are some of the more unusual tree species in the park, he said.
The park’s full-time ranger position emerged last year. Wilkerson started July 18, 2018. His office is in a converted storage room of the main pavilion.
Ranger Wilkerson said the extensive “first phase is nearing completion.” There is a bee garden (with a beekeeper) and pollinator garden tended to by master gardeners and their helpers, a wildlife meadow, Inspiration Point, Eppler Overlook, and the Boyd Observation Deck. The emerging Maybank-Rhett Nature Center on the south side and Quiet Place in the southwest corner are next for dedications.
Benches have been steadily added, with nearly ten more in the latest phase, Daniels said. “I just sold three more benches this week,” she said of sponsorships. More picnic tables are due in by August, Daniels noted. She succeeds Maurean Adams, who led park fundraising for over four years. The late Terry Hicks, a former Flat Rock mayor, launched the foundation.
Christine Hicks, his widow who regularly walks in the park, was among park users who Daniels and Ranger Wilkerson spoke to Saturday about the park. That info-input session was in the Welcome Center’s Perry N. Rudnick Community Room. The last of three such recent sessions was Wednesday, April 3.
Suggestions include to follow other parks’ rules and limit dog leashes to about six feet. There were stories of a dog on a long 20-foot leash, easily reaching other walkers.
The Rudnick Endowment Fund of the local Community Foundation awarded $45,000 for the community room. Further, more than $40,000 was reportedly raised from Feast & Frolic in Kenmure last year, for the fund drive entitled Play. Learn. Grow!
Village Council had budgeted $154,000 in pivotal 2016-17 for the nature center (projected at $70,000), interior trails ($60,000) and landscaping. Sponsorship of an observation deck and two footbridges helped slice the total to less than half of the $385,000 in initial project requests.
Council authorized $260,000 to build Bryan Playground, with most money from Kendall Gibson Bryan and Eleanor deSaussure Bryan’s donation that honors their children.
Wilkerson helps with raising revenue including facility rentals. “We’re raising money to sustain the park.” He said drain pipe repair is slated for June.
Myra Grant is grants consultant, and development advisor. Donations, grants and volunteering and donations enable the village to develop the park, for years without raising taxes. The Flat Rock Park and Recreation Foundation and the three-person park commission chaired by Duncan Fraser that oversee park operations, finances and rules.
Private donors contributed over $900,000 with most in three years, officials noted. That enabled building of several facilities, starting with the Welcome Center that is the remodeled golf pro shop. The center opened in September of 2015, exactly one year ahead of the $252,000 Robert V. Staton Pavilion named after the mayor. Both are near the parking lot. The pavilion has eight wooden picnic tables.
Rental for the main pavilion is $125 for four hours then $25 per extra hour, and $50 for the community room plus a refundable $50 deposit. Amplified music is not allowed in the park; thus any music needs to be acoustic. Alcohol remains banned from the “low-impact” family park.
The open-air playground shade pavilion with cedar shingles is up and will soon be furnished, as funding allows, Wilkerson said. It shelters families from sudden rain, and parents from sun while they watch their children play in the upcoming Tot Lot next to it or nearby in the Bryan Playground that opened three summers ago.
“It’s time for that” shelter, Mike Jerose told The Tribune. He said heat effect builds up, when sitting without shade to watch his daughter play.
Several parents said their children like the playground’s four slides, huge tubular tunnel, climbing walls and above climbing on or bouncing off the hammock-like “cargo net” on the second level.
There is no park admission fee. The entrance gate opens and closes automatically. Park hours are 20 minutes before dawn to 20 minutes after dusk. For more on the park including facility rental, call Ranger John Wilkerson at 435-0397, or check villageofflatrock.org. To donate to the park, go to flatrockparkfoundation.org.