ConnectNC Seeks To Enhance State Parks and Museums

Jul 20, 2015

"Breaking the Waves" at Hammocks Beach State Park
Credit R. Evans, North Carolina State Parks

Parks and museums across the state have begun preparing for Governor McCrory’s Connect NC investment program and the funding it would provide them.  Lee Jenkins spoke with the directors for Hammocks Beach Park and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum about what the program would mean for their facilities.

Connect NC is the McCrory administration’s infrastructural brainchild. Using funding borrowed through 3 billion dollars in bonds, the program would fund a grand total of 27 highway projects and 101infrastructure projects like constructing new educational and medical facilities or improving state parks. McCrory claims that North Carolina has enough credit to finance the bonds without raising taxes, though some legislators fear otherwise. Several counties and cities across the state have voiced their approval of the program, which funds projects in 64 counties.

State Parks Public Information Officer Charlie Peek says the program sets 67.3 million dollars aside for park improvements and expansion.

“The NC Connect bond package would fund projects in 28 state parks and they pretty much run the gamut from visitors’ centers to new campgrounds to campground upgrades, trail renovation; just about anything on the menu that state parks might have.”

At Hammocks Beach State Park in Swansboro, this includes improving the 289 acres of mainland the island-based park recently acquired.

“The bond issue, if it’s approved, would allow 1.5 million dollars to begin building traditional park facilities on that mainland parcel.”

The improvements include paving new trails, setting up picnic facilities and educational programming areas, and building boat docks and canoe access sites. Most projects have been planned in advance and now simply await funding.

“The funding would come pretty quickly if it’s approved by voters and we could get the shovels moving in spring or early summer of next year.”

The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Cape Hatteras would receive two million dollars more than Hammocks Beach, money that Maritime Museums Associate Director Joseph Schwarzer says would go towards making the museum’s exhibits permanent.

“The current museums are temporary at best. I’m not saying the exhibits we have in the museum aren’t interesting enough, they are, but the idea of the permanent exhibits is to create a holistic story of maritime North Carolina along the Outer Banks.”

With funding from Connect NC, the museum plans to install anywhere between 20 to 25 permanent exhibits, providing a comprehensive look into North Carolina’s maritime history.

“It involves communities, it involves the people, it involves shipwrecks, of course, that’s one of our focuses. It involves maritime traffic – national, international, state – it involves the development of ship types, domestic vessel design and construction, whaling, the porpoise factories; all of this folds together to create an overall story.”

Schwarzer says it would take the museum no longer than 18 months to get these exhibits up and running under Connect NC, but that it’d take much longer to secure funding for them acting independently.

“We’ll have to continue with our temporary exhibits. We’ll have to try and find other sources of potential support potential for this. That will take a much longer time and that depends on the economy and on the range of sources we can go through.”

Schwarzer says the maritime museums at Southport and Beaufort could also benefit from the program as the funds would go towards moving the entire maritime system forward.

Before anyone receives any funding, however, voters must approve Connect NC in a November referendum. Some have criticized the McCrory administration for holding the referendum during an off-year election, saying it will heavily reduce voter turnout, but McCrory says Connect NC’s success hinges on historically low interest rates that may not exist during the 2016 elections.