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Burke County finds new economic strength in
tourism and retirement while enhancing its storied quality of life.
By Sharon McBrayer
took a team of overachieving Little Leaguers to finally convince Burke
County that it, too, could compete in the major leagues of tourism and
All-Star Chris Fine slides into home during a
Little League World Series game in Williamsport, Pa.
A major expansion of Lake James State Park
should make the popular resort even more attractive to tourists.
Valdese relives its storied
Economic magic flows from
Links to important Burke County sites
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Burke County for
generations was known for its many state installations, including
Broughton Hospital, the N.C. School for the Deaf and the J. Iverson Riddle
Development Center. The region around Morganton, the county seat, also was
heavily dependent on manufacturing, particularly furniture. But with the
recent decline in the furniture and textile industries and cutbacks in
state government payrolls, which pushed the area’s jobless level over 6
percent, Burke County leaders saw the need for a new economic model.
Those plans were beginning to take shape last summer when Morganton’s
all-star Little League team inspired Burke County to see itself in a new
light. The underdogs won the state tournament, then pulled off a series of
surprise victories to win the Southeast Region championship and advance to
the national tournament, which was televised on ESPN.
The team made a spirited run through the tournament and reached the
national semifinals before being ousted by a powerful Texas team.
Returning home, the boys were greeted as heroes and treated to a parade in
their honor. Their achievement was ranked by the Charlotte Observer as
among the top 10 regional stories of 2004.
Burke County officials previously had discussed ways to transition the
local economy from manufacturing and state jobs into one powered by
tourism, retirement and quality of life. The Little League team’s success
focused their thinking and led to creation of the Catawba Meadows sports
complex plan, which boasts four baseball fields and many amenities. Other
plans gelled, including a new state park on Lake James and a “fresco
“Burke County has all the assets necessary to become a major economic
development driver,” says Mike Fulenwider, a business owner, member of the
Burke Partnership for Economic Development, one of Gov. Mike Easley’s
appointees to the state’s economic development board in 2001 and a member
of NCCBI’s board.
“Although we have experienced manufacturing job losses and the resulting
economic challenges, we are replacing them with other jobs, creating
opportunities that will sustain our economy in the future,” he says.
One group set to play a major role in the county’s economic future is the
Burke Partnership for Economic Development, commonly referred to as BPED.
It is a non-profit group made up of two dozen members from the public and
private sector. It promotes Burke County to foster its economic
development opportunities. Jeff Morse, a BPED member and manager for the
town of Valdese, says, “We’re looking at a balanced approach. We’re
branching out in a more diversified, expanded base, no longer just
depending on our manufacturing base for our sole survival.”
Burke County’s strongest economic base has long been the state of North
Carolina, which operates Broughton Hospital, the North Carolina School for
the Deaf, the J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center, Western Piedmont
Community College (WPCC), prisons, and funds much of the public school
The county also had a strong furniture and manufacturing industry for many
years. It was not uncommon for generations of families to go to work at a
company and remain there until they retired. However, in a need to remain
competitive, some of the oldest companies left the area in favor of
lower-paid workers overseas, leaving many in Burke County wondering how
those jobs could ever be replaced.
Finding those replacement jobs has been a challenge for area leaders and
has caused many to rethink their ideas about economic development. Many
economic and community leaders are starting to understand the need to
retool Burke’s economic base and diversify its industry in order to bring
more jobs to the area.
“The economic future of Burke County is changing, and it will never be
like it was,” Fulenwider points out.
Expanding Healthcare Services
With the baby-boomer generation ready to retire and people living longer,
the need for quality health care in a community is a top priority. Blue
Ridge HealthCare operates both Grace and Valdese hospitals, as well as a
number of nursing homes, in Burke County. Blue Ridge employs between 1,500
and 1,700 people. Blue Ridge officials recently announced plans for a $100
million expansion and renovations of its facilities and services over the
next five to seven years.
“We’re trying to build something that will take us through the 21st
Century,” says Jerry Davis, vice president of marketing and public
relations for Blue Ridge HealthCare.
The plans for expansion call for an additional 100,000 square feet —
53,000 at Valdese and 46,000 at Grace — which includes new outpatient
centers, new diagnostic and treatment areas, extensive renovations to
existing buildings and new technology. New surgery suites at Valdese
Hospital also are planned, as well as additional parking at both campuses.
One of the unique features of the cancer center will be a healing garden
for chemotherapy patients. In the planning stages are an expanded
emergency room, with two new treatment rooms, a dedicated waiting room and
a triage room. The 46,000 square feet of new construction at Grace
Hospital include a cardiac cath lab, a women’s center and a special care
These projects will be the largest since the construction of either
hospital, say hospital representatives.
Davis says Blue Ridge, in addition to the construction and renovations, is
working on recruiting physicians and specialists. The recruitment will
have an economic ripple effect, Davis says, with those doctors needing
office staff, supplies and other services. Burke County Chamber of
Commerce President Mike Jackson says the expansion goes along well with
what community leaders are trying to do in attracting retirees to the
“One of the major things people are looking for when they retire is what
healthcare facilities can serve their needs,” Jackson says.
Renovations have started and major construction is expected early this
“In many respects, this is the culmination of what we have been working
toward since the formation of Blue Ridge HealthCare in 1999 — a system
that can truly take care of the vast majority of our community’s health
care needs here at home in facilities that are second to none,” says Jim
Hatley, board chairman of Blue Ridge HealthCare. “This is a milestone
everyone can celebrate.”
Hospital officials say the work at Blue Ridge will have a $250 million
impact on the local economy over the next five years from additional jobs
and patients. “Redeveloping our facilities and creating hallmark services
will have not only a major impact on healthcare but on the local economy
well into the future,” says Kenneth W. Wood, president and CEO of Blue
College Options Grow
With the expansion of Blue Ridge HealthCare, as well as meeting the needs
of Broughton Hospital and the J. Iverson Riddle Institute, recent
discussions have turned toward building a four-year education center on
the campus of WPCC. The plan is to build the center and lease it out to
universities that grant four-year degrees in the health and science
“This higher education center will bring so much to Burke County,” says
Jim Richardson, president of WPCC. Many residents in the county who want
to go back to get a four-year education will be able to do that once the
center is built, he says.
Four major Western North Carolina schools — Appalachian State University,
Western Carolina University, Lees McRae College and Gardner Webb
University — already maintain satellite facilities in Burke County
offering four-year degrees in education, business, social work and
Those in the healthcare industry say the center would help alleviate a
shortage of healthcare workers in the county. Currently, WPCC has room for
70 nursing students each year with more than 600 people on the waiting
list for the nursing program, says John Branstrom, a committee member
working to make the center a reality.
State Representatives Walt Church (D-Burke) and Mitch Gillespie
(R-McDowell) say they support the project and have promised to do what
they can to to get state funding for the center during this year’s General
Assembly session. The center still is in the early stages of discussion,
but the chancellor of Western Carolina University, John Bardo, visited
WPCC last November, along with other university officials, and was
enthusiastic about the project. Bardo says his university also would be
interested in using the center.
“What we’re talking about here is creating an allied health hub in Burke
County,” Bardo told a group of community and state leaders.
Officials believe the center will not only train much-needed skilled
workers, but also help bring money into the local economy by way of
students coming to the county. “It’s a win-win situation, primarily for
students,” Richardson says.
Two New High Schools
There once was a time in Burke County when a high school diploma wasn’t
necessary in order to get a job that would provide for a family. Now, with
the changing economy, a high school diploma is a minimum requirement.
In recent years, the two high schools in Burke County — Freedom High
School and East Burke — have become overcrowded, causing school officials
to realize the need for additional facilities. Currently, there are about
14,500 students in Burke County schools, with about 4,200 students housed
in the high schools. School officials say the overcrowding situation at
the existing schools stifles education and raises safety concerns.
“The other issue is the importance of building relationships,” says David
Burleson, superintendent of Burke County Public Schools. Burleson explains
that when schools are overcrowded it is difficult for students to become
involved and build relationships
“When you read all of the literature out there, smaller schools benefit
students,” Burleson says.
After a bond referendum failed in 2002, school officials asked the Burke
County Board of Commissioners to agree to a certificate of participation
to help fund $40 million for two new high schools in the county. The
measure, which allows for the county to sell bonds without voter approval
and pay for them with monies earmarked for school capital improvements,
was passed and the funding is underway.
While East Burke and Freedom high schools were designed with open
classroom architecture, the new high schools will be built as traditional
schools with closed classrooms and hallways. Currently, the search is on
for land for the two high schools. School officials have set their sights
on property between Valdese and Rutherford College; the second school site
will be in the Morganton area of the county. Each school will have a core
capacity of 1,200 students. The layout and design will be an expanded
version of a middle school built in the county and opened in 2003.
In addition to providing a safer environment and better educational
opportunities for students, Burleson says the new high schools will allow
the school system to provide room for community and adult training
Leaders in Burke County looking to diversify the local economic base
realized they needed to open a few doors outside the county. So, the push
is on to attract more tourists and their dollars to Burke County.
Burke County has a tremendous abundance of natural beauty, with scenic
areas such as Lake James, the Linville Gorge, Linville Falls, South
Mountains State Park, Table Rock, Shortoff Mountain and the fabled Brown
In addition to the scenic attractions, the county is chock-full of
historic places and things to do, as well as other attractions. Morganton
boasts the Old Burke County Courthouse, built in 1837, which served as the
early site for the North Carolina Supreme Court’s summer session.
Morganton also is the hometown of legendary Sen. Sam Ervin, who led the
Senate Watergate hearings investigating President Richard M. Nixon and his
administration in the early 1970s. Ervin’s legacy and accomplishments draw
tourists to the area; his house remains in Morganton and his home library
is replicated at WPCC. The library houses many of Ervin’s Watergate
documents, professional and family memorabilia, political cartoons, awards
and other materials.
One of the most recent tourist attractions in Burke County is the fresco
on the ceiling of the City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium. The CoMMA
fresco, titled “The Muses,” was a two-year project of community
fund-raising leading to the work by renowned fresco artist Ben Long.
Rosemary Niewold, director of Burke County Travel & Tourism, says, “I’m
contacting all of the towns that have frescos — about nine — to start
meetings to combine efforts to get a fresco trail. These frescos are
attracting over 100,000 people a year.” Creating a fresco trail will
attract many people to Morganton, she says.
Mickie Vacca, director of Historic Burke Foundation, says an effort is
under way to form a regional strategy to benefit conservation of cultural,
historical and natural resources through economic development. “The
strategy will benefit heritage tourism, which will have a ripple effect,”
says Vacca. She says hotels, restaurants and local businesses will reap
rewards from tourists coming to the area. Vacca notes that Burke County is
the 24th “National Heritage” area designated by the U.S. Congress.
“So this is going to have far-reaching implications,” Vacca says. Thematic
trails, such as the fresco trail, are efforts to take a broader, regional
view of tourism. “We’re stronger together than we are apart,” Vacca says.
The town of Valdese, the second largest in Burke County, offers tourists
the outdoor drama “From This Day Forward,” the story of the Waldensians
who escape from religious persecution in the Cottain Alps of Italy to
religious freedom in the United States. The Waldensians founded Valdese in
1893. The Trail of Faith, located at 401 Church St., tells the story of
the people through a replica of original houses and structures in the
The Waldensian Heritage Winery and the Waldensian Museum also provide
visitors a glimpse into the lives and traditions of the religious sect.
The town is so committed to attracting tourists that it revamped its
efforts including a new full-time tourism director hired recently. Niewold
says the county gets about 27,000 tourists a year now. Attracting more
tourists is always a goal.
“If you really look at the big picture, what don’t we have?” Niewold says.
Finding Little League Fame
The summer of 2004 in Burke County will always be remembered as the summer
when a rag-tag Little League baseball team captured the hearts of the
people of the state and beyond when it won a place at the Little League
World Series. Few teams that played the Morganton all-stars believed the
11- and 12-year olds were much of a challenge. But team after team fell to
the local all-stars as they won the Little League Southeast title. In
Williamsport, Pa., for World Series play, the team did not win the whole
shebang, but it did go on to become one of the top eight teams in the
world in 2004.
After floating on a natural high from the experience, leaders in Morganton
wanted to capitalize on the event in order to bring a baseball complex to
the area. The Catawba Meadows sports complex will include five Little
League baseball fields, including restrooms, concession stands, team
meeting rooms, parking, lighting and scoreboards. The complex will have
four softball fields and four American Legion fields, primitive camp
sites, an RV area, rental cabins, disc golf and mountain bike courses.
Getting people to come play on the fields should not be a problem, says
Gary Leonhardt, director of parks and recreation for the city of
Morganton. “There’s no doubt the weekend tournaments are going to be the
biggest draw to these fields,” he says. Leonhardt believes the fields
could attract tournaments from March to October. When the fields are
complete, Leonhardt expects the complex to host between 12 and 15
tournaments a year, but people shouldn’t expect Morganton will get all of
“I think everybody has to understand there’s a lot of competition for
these tournaments,” Leonhardt says. “We hope to get our share of good
tournaments here.” Leonhardt says the Little League Organization has
promised the city a state tournament in the next several years.
The concept of the baseball complex began about four years ago, Leonhardt
says, when city officials saw there was a need in Western North Carolina
for a recreational complex such as Catawba Meadows. Chamber President Mike
Jackson says the complex will bring in sales tax revenue from shops,
restaurants, convenience stores and hotels frequented by visitors. The
park won’t just attract players and coaches, “the Catawba Meadows would
also bring in more families,” says Jackson.
The challenge with the project has been how to finance it. Initially the
city of Morganton sought grants with local matches to build the complex in
phases. Now with the enthusiasm over the Morganton all-stars, the effort
to raise funds privately is on the move. In addition to grants, the city
and Atlantic Coast Athletic Promotions joined forces to create a
public/private partnership to generate money to build the complex.
If the city depended on grants and city matches, says Lee Anderson,
director of development and design services for the city of Morganton,
completing the complex would take about 10 years. With a partnership where
private money can be used to raise the needed money, the complex could be
completed as soon as three years. Randall Wilson, owner of Atlantic Coast
Athletic Promotions based in Morganton, and his company have united with
the city to raise money by selling advertising to private corporations and
individuals — bronze and platinum sponsorships, which cost from $500 to
Once the park is complete, officials believe it will attract nearly
400,000 people a year to the area. Hotels may expect an increase of $3
million in revenue, and employ about 40 additional people. It will be an
economic boom for Burke and surrounding counties, officials say.
Industrial Park Plans Advance
For years, Burke County has lacked a multi-building industrial park. Many
economic leaders in the county say that to compete with counties in the
region, Burke County cannot afford to wait any longer. So, economic
development officials came up with a plan for a package of facilities that
will include an industrial park, an emergency services training complex
and a multi-purpose covered pavilion. They anticipate it could provide
economic recovery for the county to the tune of 800 new jobs and $80
million in tax revenue.
The Burke County Board of Commissioners passed a $5.8 million funding
package last year contingent upon the final agreements being worked out.
“The chamber supported all three parts of the stimulus package,” Mike
The industrial park will encompass 83 acres and include sewer, water and
roads, as well as a 100,000-square-foot spec site. Officials estimate the
park’s construction cost at $3.3 million. The spec site, a shell building
waiting to be outfitted, will allow interested companies to move in
quickly, Jackson says. “Companies are not willing to wait for these things
to be put together,” he adds.
Because county, city and town officials realize the need to work together
to bring new jobs to the area, all agreed to kick in money to fund the
industrial park. The emergency services training complex will be built and
maintained by WPCC and will use state of the art equipment to train police
and firefighters from the county, state and across the country.
Although the details of the facility and what it will include have not
been worked out, possibilities include a multi-story burn building, firing
range, driving track, drill tower, railway rescue, drafting pits, confined
space rescue and an ATV course. The construction cost of the facility is
about $3 million, with the county contributing a $1 million match. The
multi-purpose pavilion will offer training and educational opportunities,
also through WPCC, for environmental science studies, and will allow the
college to add new degrees and certifications.
The pavilion could be used on weekends for everything from dog and horse
shows to family reunions and concerts. It is estimated it would attract
about 60,000 people a year, which would help boost the revenues of local
hotels, shops, restaurants and tourist attractions. “The nice thing about
that would be that they stay in the local area for several days,” Jackson
says about those attending a function at the pavilion.
The construction cost of the pavilion to the county would be $1.5 million,
and proponents say the facility would be self-supporting. It would be
constructed on land owned by the college and use existing buildings.
College President Jim Richardson says the incentive package is a benefit
for the entire county. “You have to spend money to make money,” Richardson
says. “If we don’t spend money on these projects you’re going to stay
Richardson says the emergency services training facility and the covered
pavilion fit in with the college’s mission of diverse educational
opportunities to develop the county’s labor pool and raise the region’s
profile as an economic leader. “It’s providing this county and community
with options,” Richardson says.
Retirement a Natural
With beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the clear waters of Lake
James and the close proximity to urban areas, Burke County seems a fit for
those looking for a place to retire. The push is on to attract those
retirees. John Cantrell, a member of a committee working to promote the
county as good place to retire, says the effort started in early 2003.
“I give Mike Jackson his due,” says Cantrell, who also is a Morganton City
Councilman. “He’s been very helpful.”
Cantrell says when the group got together the first question asked was
what do counties with a big retirement population have that Burke County
doesn’t have. After taking an inventory of the things Burke County can
offer retirees, Cantrell says, “It surprised all of us.”
Cantrell says the natural sites of Lake James, Linville Gorge, Linville
Falls, Table Rock and the South Mountains, as well as amenities such as
golfing and the Catawba River Greenway and other tourist spots, makes the
group believe the county is the perfect spot for retirees.
“We’ve got a great inventory,” Cantrell says.
The group met early on in the process with several marketing firms about
doing some work for them, but the group had no money, Cantrell says. So
the committee met with officials of a state retirement magazine to ask
them if the county could be one of the featured inserts in the
The magazine agreed, but said it would cost $18,000 for the committee to
buy 10,000 additional inserts, which would be handed out at the Burke
County Chamber of Commerce, the local travel and tourism office and banks.
Cantrell, who also is a member of the Morganton City Council, asked the
city of Morganton as well as the county and other municipalities, to kick
in money for the publications. Most of the entities liked the idea and
agreed to provide the needed capital. “It’s provided us stimulus and it’s
brought together the communities,” Cantrell says. “This has been a vehicle
for some cooperation.”
And the effort has paid off, Cantrell believes. He says he knows people
who have relocated and bought homes in the county as a direct result of
the publication. Several communities catering to retirees have sprung up
or are being planned, he says. “There are other things that are in the
works,” Cantrell says.
The newest effort to attract retirees is a brochure featuring the county
and its towns. In addition, Cantrell says the committee wants to have DVDs
created telling people about the retirement opportunities. Those discs,
Cantrell hopes, will be inserted into the back of the brochures. The group
also wants to buy small DVD players to put in places where visitors may
Cantrell says one of the challenges of the group is making sure it doesn’t
duplicate any efforts going on throughout the county. “There’s still some
molding that needs to be done,” Cantrell says. But he adds, “It’s been a
good cooperative effort.”
With leaders in Burke County who are willing to think outside the box and
consider non-traditional business opportunities, the county’s unemployment
rate may reach an all-time low within the next five years.
Not only will the planned projects create new jobs for the nearly 90,000
residents of the county, bring in additional tax revenue and boost the
local economy, but many of the things planned will create an even better
quality of life for county residents.
From state-of-the-art health care facilities, to safer, less crowded
schools, the county is poised to not only attract retirees, but also
industry officials looking to locate a business. And with a new baseball
complex, the city of Morganton is expected to become a player in the
competitive youth baseball and softball world.
The county also is expected to attract those looking to train in the
emergency services field at the emergency training facility, as well as
attract horse and dog shows and other events at the covered pavilion.
Burke County’s multi-cultural, diverse population working together to
bring about positive changes will make it a destination for those wanting
a great place to live, work and play.
The words of football great Vince Lombardi could not only apply to a
person, but a county looking to grow, when he said, “A man can be as great
as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the
determination, the dedication, the competitive drive and if you are
willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the
things that are worthwhile, it can be done.”
Valdese Relives Its Epic History
Throughout our nation’s
history, groups have come here seeking religious freedom, but few have
made telling their story such an integral part of their culture as the
The town of Valdese, the second largest in Burke County, was founded by
the Waldensians, a pre-Reformation Christian sect from the Cottain Alps of
Italy that traces its heritage to the 12th Century. Following centuries of
religious persecution and finally a period of peace, the Waldensians
immigrated to Burke County in May 1893 searching for freedom and room to
There were many hardships that first winter, but the group of 10 founding
families saw their prospects improve after they abandoned farming in favor
of saw mills and other manufacturing ventures. The town eventually became
a flourishing Waldensian industrial village. Many original Waldensian
structures, such as the first school made of rock and the Waldensian
Presbyterian Church, still remain, and many of the streets have Italian
and French names.
Every year their story is retold by the Old Colony Players in the outdoor
drama “From This Day Forward.” The drama is the fourth-oldest outdoor
drama in the nation. “One of the things Valdese has always been known for
is its history,” says Jeff Morse, town manager of Valdese. “It reminds us
of our past and helps us look toward our future. The play has that kind of
Morse says the town of about 4,500 residents attracts tourists to the area
who are interested in the story of the Waldensians. In addition to the
drama, the Trail of Faith, which is located on Church Street in Valdese
next to the outdoor amphitheater, also tells the story of the Waldensians.
The Old Colony Players formed in 1935 to provide plays for the Valdese
PTA. Knowlin Benfield, general manager of the Old Colony Players, says the
group disbanded during World War II because of a lack of participants. The
Players, however, reformed in 1967. One year later, during the town’s 75th
anniversary, the group performed “From This Day Forward,” written by Fred
Cranford, for the first time.
“We have people who have been in the drama for 26, 27 years,” Benfield
says. Some working on the drama have been involved with it since they were
toddlers. Being involved with the drama has become a family tradition for
many, he says. “It’s a real family thing. It took me a long time to see
this. All kinds of families are in our shows, and they cross all economic
Benfield says he is impressed that the cast ranges in age from infants to
the elderly and each is proud about their involvement. “It’s a real sense
of ownership for the town,” Benfield said. “Being Waldensian is a real
source of pride.”
In addition to its signature production, the Old Colony Players do shows
throughout the year, as well as dinner theater productions. “Our
attendance has been going up considerably with a lot of audience
satisfaction,” Benfield says.
For more information about the Old Colony Players, call 828-874-0176. —
Economic Magic Flows from Lake James
In the words of philosopher and naturalist Loren Eiseley, “If there is
magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”
The magic for Burke County is in its water, and its water is in Lake
Named for Duke Power founder James B. Duke, Lake James was created in 1916
and has a surface area of more than 6,800 acres, with 150 miles of
shoreline stretching between Burke and McDowell counties. It is the first
of several man-made lakes along the Catawba River. The Charlotte-based
utility still owns Lake James, and its real estate arm, Crescent
Resources, manages the land surrounding it.
A state park was created along one side of Lake James in 1987, but at 605
acres it was one of the smallest of the 33 parks in the state. Last
summer, though, the General Assembly adopted legislation that will expand
the park by 2,915 acres. The area lies along the lake’s north side where
the Linville River joins the Catawba River. With nearly 24 miles of lake
frontage, the tract offers stunning views of Linville Gorge, Shortoff
Mountain and other peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains..
The push for the expansion came out of the widely shared view that the
lake and the pristine land surrounding it needed greater protection.
Crescent Resources consulted with several environmental groups, mainly the
Foothills Conservancy. In 2004, the parties involved came up with a way to
protect the water and allow more access to the public, as well as provide
a way for Crescent to develop other areas around the lake. The Burke
County Board of Commissioners passed ordinances protecting the water and
the views around the lake
In April 2004 Crescent unveiled plans to develop less environmentally
sensitive areas around the lake. Plans call for 1,568 homes, a lodge, 100
cabins and commercial buildings.
The other half of the plan fell into place in August when the General
Assembly passed its bill authorizing the issuance of $20 million in
certificates of participation to expand the park nearly six fold.
When the bill was passed it received rave reviews from environmentalists
as well as local and state leaders. Dan Kuehnert, a Burke County attorney
who helped work out the agreement with Crescent, says he believes the lake
and the park will be a draw for industries that want to locate in an area
with qualities the county offers.
“As a county we’re really blessed to have these natural resources with a
really good plan to use them,” Kuehnert says.
Kuehnert notes that working out the agreement was a unique process between
local government, industry, residents and even the media in Burke County.
“And it crosses political and socio-economic lines,” Kuehnert said.
State Rep. Walter Church (D-Burke) says it couldn’t have happened without
bipartisanship. “There’s no doubt about it that this is the greatest thing
that has happened in Burke County in my lifetime,” Church says. “It’s just
really unbelievable that we could pull off anything like this. It’s
unusual that everybody could agree.”
The expansion will provide more public access to the lake. It will boast a
lodge site, rental cabins, camping, trails, pocket parks and trail
destinations. The park will have day visitation at settlement areas and
could be a potential site for the interpretive center for the Overmountain
Crescent officials have outlined a trail system that will establish links
to the Linville Gorge, Blue Ridge Mountains, a national forest and
wilderness lands, the Mountain to the Sea Trail, as well as the Upper
Catawba River Canoe Trail and the Overmountain Victory Trail.
Officials say the park will help support a tourism based economy, as well
as more business opportunities in the area. An economic impact study
conducted by Dr. Michael L. Walden, a professor of economics at North
Carolina State University, projects the county will realize nearly $2
million in additional tax revenue every year due to the development.
Walden says officials in many rural areas that have lost traditional
manufacturing jobs have been looking at ways to boost their economy and
create work. He says Burke County has found a way to capitalize on its
natural resources and to do just that. “I think this is an economic
development that other rural areas can look at,” Walden says.
The study says that 2,441 jobs should be created in the construction
industry alone during the building phases of development. Walden warned,
however, that the construction jobs are not permanent. During that
building phase, the additional income generated is expected to be more
than $211 million.
Walden said the additional tax revenue is expected to climb to more than
$4 million during the construction phase due to emerging property values
around the lake. But once the construction is complete, lots have been
sold, retail shops have been completed and the lodge has been filled, the
money added to the local economy will continue, the study says.
It says the development will add 2,429 permanent jobs generating $89
million in income for the county.
“The economically sensitive development of Lake James by Crescent
Resources, in conjunction with the creation of a 3,000-acre state park,
will fuel large investments in real estate and the need for new services
to accommodate the needs of tourists and retirees,” says Mike Fulenwider,
a member of the state and Burke County economic development committees. —
Learn More About Burke County
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Chamber of Commerce
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Travel and tourism commission
Western Piedmont Comm. Coll.