A good decision

Published 2:58 pm Wednesday, December 10, 2008

By Staff
The Washington City Council’s decision this week to designate a 1.35-acre site adjacent to the North Carolina Estuarium as a park is a welcome one.
For several years, city residents and others have asked for at least part of the green space between the Estuarium and the former Maola building to be kept as open space, with that space used as a park. The parcel designated as a park is immediately west of the Estuarium. The parcel includes an area over which the Estuarium holds an easement.
The Partnership for the Sounds, which operates the Estuarium, informed the city that it supports designating the parcel as a park. However, the Partnership for the Sounds reminded the city there likely will come a day when the Estuarium will need to expand and that expansion likely will have to be to the west of the Estuarium, or the park area.
When the council designated the parcel as a park, its members said they recognized the fact the Estuarium may expand in the future, but they believe it’s important for that land to become a park so it provides a public access to the Pamlico River. Since the Estuarium opened, the open space just west of that facility has been more or less used by the public as a park.
The City Council deserves credit for seeing that the wishes of many people have become a reality.
The council’s decision makes official what, according to Councilman Archie Jennings has said before, many people had assumed: that open space adjacent to the Estuarium is a public park.
The area designated as a park does not include all of the existing open space between the Estuarium and the former Maola building. The city retains the former Evans Seafood property, about a half an acre, as a site for commercial development. The designated park land and the former Evans Seafood site are part of a 4.5-acre area that roughly includes the open space that runs from the Estuarium westward to the sidewalk that leads from Harding Square to the waterfront promenade near the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce building.
The land designated as a park has long been used for several kinds of recreational activities, from flinging and chasing Frisbees to children playing tag to young adults playing football. Now that it has designated the land as a park, the next step for the city is to bring some improvements to the park, improvements such as picnic tables and, perhaps, a “beach” volleyball court.
We will leave the improvements to the parks-and-recreation professionals on the city’s payroll.
By designating the 1.35 acres as a park, the city shows it is committed to providing public access to the Pamlico-Tar River. That public access is something the council has talked about several times during the past five years. But it has done more than just talk. The city is pursuing funding to establish the Tar River Nature Park on the west side of the existing U.S. Highway 17 bridge and on the south shore of the Tar River. (It’s the Tar River west of the bridge and the Pamlico River east of the bridge.)
The overall, proposed park project, which will provide shoreline access to the public, calls for a building that would have restrooms, an area for exhibits and an area that would be used to store rental kayaks and provide some office space. Along with a fishing pier and picnic facilities, proposed improvements to the land include a wooden bulkhead, boat ramp, gazebo, restrooms, shoreline walkway, parking area, lighting and trash receptacles.
The city has problems, but providing public access to public-trust waters is not one of them.