By Jesse Wood
Oct. 11, 2013. On Monday, the Cultural Resources Advisory Board unanimously passed a motion supporting the idea of developing the Daniel Boone Park “in one way or another,” as Chair Frank Mohler put it, adding that the language in the motion was general enough to not specifically endorse the Marquis Halback plan, which was presented to the public and the Boone Town Council in early spring 2012.
The Daniel Boone Park consists of a large swath of property separated by Horn in the West Drive. The property features Daniel Boone Native Gardens, Jaycee’s Park, the grounds of the Watauga County Farmers’ Market, Hickory Ridge Homestead Museum, Horn in the West Amphitheater and Strawberry Hill Arboretum.
In August 2011, the Boone Town Council allocated $15,000 – with an additional $5,000 coming from the Southern Appalachian Historical Association, which produces the “Horn in the West” drama and the Hickory Ridge Homestead Museum – for a conceptual master plan of a proposed development of the 36-acre property by consulting and design firm Marquis Halback.
When the plans were presented to the public in March 2012, Fred Halback of Marquis Halback said that each of the three versions of the conceptual plans produced by Marquis Halback would “knit the whole park together.”
The proposals were ambitious – and expensive, upwards of a $10 million development – with two of the plans calling for a road across an upper section of Strawberry Hill and a parking lot on the Strawberry Hill property. All three proposals called for Jaycee’s Park and the town’s maintenance yard, which is adjacent to the Daniel Boone Park and runs parallel with N.C. 105 Extension, to be parking lots as well.
They were also met with disapproval – as most in attendance at the presentation, including members from stakeholder groups that included SAHA, the Watauga County Farmers’ Market, Boone Town Council and Daniel Boone Native Gardens, weren’t too keen on the two concepts that vastly altered the lay of the land.
The master plan presented to the Boone Town Council a month later wasn’t as extreme as the two that featured a road and parking lot towards the top of Strawberry Hill, but it did consist of moving Horn in the West Drive and curving it along a lower portion of Strawberry Hill.
In the April 2012 Boone Town Council meeting, Council Member Jamie Leigh summed up the thoughts of quite a few citizens: “One person said, ‘We would like it more, if it was less,’” Leigh said. “I certainly endorse the fact that something needs to happen, but I don’t endorse something of this magnitude … This is too big for Boone.”
Leigh was the lone council member to not endorse the conceptual plan. The motion passed at that meeting endorsed the plan contingent upon the newly formed Cultural Resources Advisory Board’s involvement in any future developments of the property.
Now nearly two years since that plan was commissioned, the town is back at square one with the Cultural Resources Advisory Board (CRAB) offering a starting point by endorsing some kind of development at the Daniel Boone Park.
In September, the Boone Town Council denied a request to fund a study itemizing costs to the develop the Daniel Boone Park.
Mohler said the town council essentially said, “We can’t afford to fix anything, so why should we pay to have an assessment done.”
Mohler added that the town requested a list of things that needed to be improved, so that a stopgap or a “bandaid” could be applied in the meantime.
Boone Cultural Resources Director Pilar Fotta said a list was currently being compiled and would be presented to the Boone Town Council once completed.
Back when the Halback plan was being considered, Halback noted that his plan consisted of $2.06 million in costs for structures and facilities, such as restoration of amphitheater, seating bowl, back of the house, restrooms, concessions and pavilions.
On Monday at the CRAB meeting, board members noted drainage issues that are assisting in the disrepair of the amphitheater, and Eric Gustavson, facility maintenance superintendent for the Town of Boone, noted that infrastructure costs would be at least three million.
The board also spoke about prioritizing the amphitheater and developing the park in phases. Members mentioned a retreat would be a good ideal for more-detailed discussions, including prioritizations and the specifics of any proposed development of the Daniel Boone Park.
Council Member Rennie Brantz noted that a general endorsement of development of the property would be a “good first step” and then the Boone Town Council would “throw it back” to CRAB with specifics on how to proceed.