From Future Trash to Present Treasure
More than 2000 people joined Catawba County officials to celebrate the opening of Riverbend Park, Catawba County Government's first park, during a daylong event on Saturday, July 3, 1999. Hiking, mountain biking, bird and plant identification walks, a fishing tournament, and concerts by three local music groups were among the highlights of the day.
“What you see here is just a small portion of the whole 450 acres in this beautiful park.” Robert E. Hibbitts, Chairman of the Catawba County Board of Commissioners, said during a dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony. “The park is a gift from this generation to future generations. We are confident this gift, the preservation of the natural beauty of the Catawba River, will be a place our children, and their great-grandchildren, can come to enjoy a peaceful and relaxing day.”
This large, peaceful tract of woodland was once destined to be filled with garbage. Now it has begun a new era as a park and nature preserve, where Catawba County citizens will be able to enjoy the scenic beauty of the river while hiking, biking or just relaxing on a beautiful day.
A variety of trails have been created, including walking, hiking, and biking trails. Although all motorized boating will be prohibited to protect the wildlife at Riverbend, canoes, and kayaks may be launched. Patrons will have to bring their own boating equipment as the park will not provide them. A platform is also available for fishing, under the rules and regulations of the North Carolina Wildlife Commission.
“Riverbend Park represents a wonderful new chapter in the history of Catawba County Government,” Hibbitts said. “For several years, our Board has heard requests from citizens for the development of parks in various areas of our county, far removed from parks already established by several of our cities. After a change in environmental regulations made this land cost prohibitive for development of a landfill, we realized it would make the perfect spot for a park. We have since been able to enter into a wonderful funding partnership with the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) which, in effect, allowed us to build the park for half price.” Planning for Riverbend Park began in 1996. The County was awarded a $206,954 matching grant from PARTF for Riverbend. The Board of Commissioners appropriated an equal amount in the County's 1997-98 budget for construction of the park.
“When I first read your grant proposal, I wrote down phrases like, 'good idea' and 'this will look great'. Now that I'm here to see the completed park, I say...good idea...this looks great!,” said Drane McCall of the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.
The County encountered a delay in opening the park when bids for construction of trails, observation platforms and buildings came in well over budget in 1998. The Board of Commissioners and County staff were committed to constructing Riverbend Park within budget, to take full advantage of the grant from the North Carolina Parks Commission. To stay within budget, County staff, under the supervision of Utilities and Engineering Director Barry Edwards, members of the County's staff put in overtime and weekend hours for many weeks to build the park. Prison labor from the North Carolina Department of Corrections was also used, providing significant savings.
In his remarks at the dedication ceremony, Hibbitts quoted from Wendell Willkie, who said in 1940, “I believe in America because in it we are free...free to choose our government...to speak our minds...to choose our different religions. We are generous with our freedom, we share our rights with those who disagree with us. We hate no people and covet no people's lands. We are blessed with a natural and varied abundance. We have great dreams and we have the opportunity to make those dreams come true.” “Indeed, this event...this beautiful park...this great achievement...is a dream come true. Thank you for sharing in it with us!”, Hibbitts concluded.