Will Extend Dunn-Erwin Rail Trail and Connect Trail to Cape Fear River Park
By Brian Haney
Harnett County Public Information Officer
The Harnett County Board of Commissioners has agreed to accept more than 10 acres of land to expand recreation opportunities for residents in the county.
The board voted to receive 10.81 acres from the Harnett Forward Together Committee (HFTC) to be added onto the Cape Fear River Park in Erwin.
The land was set aside from the sale of the former Erwin textile mill weave plant to Staplcotn, one of the largest cotton marketing cooperatives in the United States, which has leased the property in Erwin from HFTC since 2010.
The donated land borders the eastern boundary of the 16.27-acre river park, which opened in May 2008 and includes scenic overlooks, a walking trail, canoe access and a picnic shelter.
The 10.81 acres will connect the river park to the Dunn-Erwin Rail Trail, a 5-mile crushed stone trail that runs between the downtown areas of Dunn and Erwin. The trail follows a former railroad line through the area’s rural landscape, winding through farmers’ fields as well as residential areas. When the extension is completed, the trail will span nearly nine miles from Dunn to the Cape Fear River.
Harnett Forward Together Committee Chairman Johnson Tilghman said the extension will also link the river park and the Town of Erwin’s Al Woodall Municipal Park.
“That’s a very valuable link in and of itself,” he said.
Sharon Stevens, secretary for the Dunn-Erwin Rail Trail Authority, said the organization is thrilled that the land donated to the county will allow for the extension of the trail to the Cape Fear River.
“This is a golden opportunity and we are thrilled that Harnett Forward Together understands how this all fits together,” she said.
Along with increasing the length of the Dunn-Erwin Rail Trail to nearly nine miles, she said the land may allow for the future addition of campsites for kayakers on the river or hikers on the trail.
“This will be a public place where people will be able to go to enjoy our county’s natural beauty,” she said.
Harnett County Parks and Recreation Director Carl Davis said the land donation is a continuation of a partnership between the county and Harnett Forward Together that has seen the county’s recreational space grow exponentially in the last year.
HFTC also partnered with Harnett County to create the 1,000-plus-acre Anderson Creek Park in western Harnett County, the first phase of which opened in April and includes walking trails, a disc golf course, picnic shelter, pond overlook and multiple areas for environmental education. Future phases will include equestrian and bicycle trails.
Davis said the connection of the Dunn-Erwin Rail Trail to the Cape Fear River Park signals the beginning of an effort to tie the county’s parks together into a single network.
“I see this as the start of a future greenway plan for Harnett County,” he said. “The rail trail connects Dunn to Erwin, this connects that to the river park and from that point we can branch out to other places.”
He said Harnett Forward Together’s impact on recreation in Harnett County has been amazing.
“Without Harnett Forward Together, I don’t know where we would be as far as the growth of our park system,” he said. “They have allowed Harnett County to have natural areas that could have been used for future development and set them aside as places where people will always be able to come and relax and enjoy nature no matter how large the county gets.”
“Harnett County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state and one of the fastest growing micropolitan MSAs in the country,” said Tilghman. “You can’t have enough park land and the use of this park by the citizens of Harnett County proves that. These parks are actively used and very popular.”
He said quality of life is extremely important to Harnett County and its residents, as well as for economic development.
“These parks attract citizens who will want to live and work in Harnett County,” he said. “Harnett Forward Together is glad to be in a position to do this and we are pleased that the county is accepting the property.”
Area residents Darryl Nordan and Marshall Stephenson are frequent users of the Cape Fear River Park Trail and the Dunn-Erwin Rail Trail. They say they are excited about the two trails being linked together.
The Harnett Forward Together Committee has sold the former Erwin textile mill weave plant in Erwin to Staplcotn. The company has been a tenant at the facility for the last four years and agreed to set aside 10.81 acres to expand the Cape Fear River Park and extend the Dunn-Erwin Rail Trail.
The Cape Fear River Park, which opened in 2008, includes scenic overlooks, a walking trail, canoe access and a picnic shelter. The park will expand to more than 27 acres with the addition of 10.81 acres retained from Harnett Forward Together Committee’s sale of the former Erwin textile mill weave plant to Staplcotn.