Chimney Rock Park Property

RECOMMENDATION ON THE POTENTIAL PURCHASE OF THE CHIMNEY ROCK PARK PROPERTY

September 11, 2006

The Conservation Committee recommends that the Carolina Mountain Club Council adopt the following statement of position:

The Carolina Mountain Club strongly supports the State of North Carolina in its ongoing efforts to purchase the Chimney Rock Park property. This unique, stunningly beautiful parcel could form an exciting and effective linchpin in the newly forming Hickory Nut Gorge State Park. It is an irreplaceable regional and state treasure with significant portions designated by the state as Natural Heritage areas. It deserves protection.

BACKGROUND

For years the Nature Conservancy, the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina and the State of North Carolina have been working in partnership to secure and aggregate the many parcels of land that make up the Hickory Nut Gorge along the Broad River and the ridges above, especially those areas that have been designated by the state as Natural Heritage (ecologically critical) areas. These parcels have been secured using many methods, each agreement tailored to the needs of the particular acquisition. Many of these parcels have been in the news, and they include World’s Edge, the Bat Cave Preserve, Rumbling Bald Preserve and others.

Now the project is coming together as Hickory Nut Gorge State Park. Park planners have been spending lots of time analyzing the whole area, deciding which portions need to be preserved as wilderness, where good hiking, rock climbing and other activities will go, and how the park will fit into the local community. The new local park hires will be on site soon.

The Chimney Rock property (about 1000 acres), owned by the Morse family, is in a central position in the matrix of parcels that make up the project area. In July of this year the Morse family, owners of the Chimney Rock Park, listed the property for sale for $55 million. This followed a century of the family’s protection of the land and operation of the park as a tourist destination. In recent years the park has become unprofitable and the family was negotiating with the Nature Conservancy and the state for its sale. The state’s appraiser valued the property at just $12 million, and the Nature Conservancy’s appraisal came in at $20 million. Based on that, the state made an offer to the Morse family for $20 million which the family turned down. They then listed the property on the open market.

Many people are dismayed to think that this precious place may be sold and developed as residences, and therefore lost to the possibility of protecting it for public enjoyment and for the ecological health of the area. There seems to be almost no opposition to its being purchased by the state for the park. The only issue is the money. The Morse family has concerns about price and tax issues, and the financial condition of the park corporation is not known. Since the state is generally constrained in its ability to pay significantly more than appraised value, some people have hopes that the Morse family may be fishing for a higher offer which it will then take to the state to use as leverage in its bid for the better price along with provisions for dealing with its tax issues.

The park location is a remarkably central spot just southeast of the junction of Highways 74, 9 and 64 on this side of Lake Lure in Rutherford County at the corner it shares with Buncombe and Henderson Counties. It’s at the hub between Asheville, Hendersonville, Black Mountain, and the Rutherfordton/Forest City area with Charlotte beyond. This park will be a wonderful asset to all of us in Western North Carolina and the Chimney Rock Park addition would be a hugely significant enhancement.

Talks are ongoing among the parties. To our knowledge no higher offer has yet been received, but this could change at any time. For the Carolina Mountain Club, we hope this new park will be an easily accessible and exciting public hiking location, coming available during a period of declining access to hiking on private lands. It is the position of the Conservation Committee that we need to write letters to our governor, the appropriate state agencies, and to our state representatives strongly encouraging them to go the extra mile to acquire this property for posterity.