The inclusion of a wildlife access ramp as part of the N.C. 24 widening project — a request by the Friends of the Sampson County Waterways that received local backing in recent weeks — would pose traffic safety and wetland concerns at the preferred site on Great Coharie Creek, N.C. Department of Transportation officials said.
Last month, DOT district engineer Lin Reynolds said he would research the possible inclusion of an access ramp to the Great Coharie Creek just outside of Clinton, off N.C. 24, following a request by Friends of Sampson County Waterways (FSCW), a non-profit dedicated to trying to preserve and maintain Sampson’s waterways.
A letter, signed by FSCW founder Ralph Hamilton, current FSCW president Tim Tromp and vice president Cebron Fussell, explained the need — and benefits — of having such a ramp.
“This would be of great importance not only to the Friends of Sampson County Waterways, but to all citizens of the county and, indeed, could help promote tourism,” the letter stated. “Sampson County has a 60-mile stretch of water from the towns of Newton Grove to Ivanhoe, but there is only one boat ramp, which is located four miles from our southern county border.”
Reynolds reported back to Board of Commissioners chairman Billy Lockamy after looking into the request, voicing his concerns. His report was included in information materials distributed to the board leading up to this week’s meeting.
“I found many obstacles at this particular location,” Reynolds stated. “After consulting with the roadway design engineer for N.C. 24, the N.C. DOT’s position on allowing access at this location was a safety concern due to the heavy volume of traffic and speed of the motorist.”
Reynolds said he also consulted with the area N.C. Department of Environmental Resources technician to see whether permitting the site would be a concern. Those permitting issues would pose similar hurdles, he found.
“It was indicated that wetlands surrounded the proposed site on all four corners of the bridge,” Reynolds said. “The technician advised that permitting may be possible, but there would be major impacts to the wetlands due to having to build a road and parking lot.”
Reynolds said the group could contact the N.C. Wildlife Commission to see if they would like to pursue a different entry point for possible DOT consideration. However, the proposed access point at Great Coharie Creek would just not work.
“The N.C. DOT’s mission is to connect people and places in North Carolina safely and efficiently, with accountability and environmental sensitivity,” Reynolds stated. “With this mission in mind, the N.C. DOT would not be in support of a boat access at the Great Coharie Creek on N.C. 24 by way of a break in the guardrail due to safety and environmental concerns.”
Constructing a public boat ramp and waterway access point on Great Coharie Creek, near its juncture with N.C. 24 outside of Clinton, could pay dividends for Sampson, many have said.
“I am certain that this project will enhance the recreational and educational opportunities available to Sampson County residents,” Sen. Brent Jackson stated in support of the FSCW request. “Currently, those who use the creek, for kayaking, boating, fishing or other outdoor activities must drive to Ivanhoe to the nearest public boat ramp. The community would benefit from having another access point, closer to the county’s main population hub.”
Any cost for construction and maintenance would not be the responsibility of Sampson County as the ramp would be state-owned, and thus shouldered by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
However, Sampson County will benefit greatly from the additional revenue brought in from those using the waterways, proponents said. Thousands come to Sampson County each year to travel 300 miles of waterways. Those “paddle trails” serve as a tourism destination, an economic driver for local businesses and a boost to the quality of life.
Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce executive director Janna Bass and Sampson Convention and Visitors Bureau director Vickie Crane shared similar support of a boat access ramp.
“Knowing the economic impact and potential opportunity of these waterways, it is recognized that if Sampson County is able to gain another wildlife access ramp in Sampson County, just outside Clinton, in addition to the current wildlife access ramp in Ivanhoe, it could bring more tourists to use our waterways, impacting our local businesses in a positive way,” Bass said.
While that original proposal will not work, county manager Ed Causey said in a letter to FSCW officials and others, including Bass and Jackson, that the Board of Commissioners would be glad to support the efforts of the group should another workable option can be identified.
“N.C. DOT has suggested that the Friends of Sampson County Waterways work in conjunction with the N.C. Wildlife Commission to identify an alternative entry point which could be presented for N.C. DOT consideration,” Causey said. “If the Friends of Sampson County Waterways and the Wildlife Commission identify and pursue an alternative site, we would be delighted to present your revised request to the board for consideration of support at that time.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.