'Place of Wonder': Aberdeen Gets Grant for Ray's Mill Pond Park
Before it was privately owned, Powell’s Pond was a popular spot for nature lovers seeking a quiet spot to walk or fish.
In recent years, growth has threatened the 32-acre tract that is amid burgeoning housing developments and a steady hum of traffic along Bethesda Road and Saunders Boulevard.
“It is pristine now, and we have so few places that have not been touched by environmental issues related to developments,” Mayor Betsy Mofield said.
The town of Aberdeen aims to keep it that way.
“When the property became available, in my mind all I could see was condominiums around that lake,” said Commissioner Robbie Farrell, who spent many hours on the property walking and fishing with his father.
The town purchased the property in 2009 for $65,000 and can now move forward with plans to convert it into a static nature park called Ray’s Mill Pond Park. The property, which is on the corner of Bethesda Road and Saunders Boulevard, consists of an 18-acre pond and 14 acres of land. There are two homes and one shed on the property.
The town’s Parks and Recreation Department was recently selected to receive a $252,000 grant from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund for the acquisition and development of the property, which will be named to honor the original owners of the property and the fact that it was the site of Moore County’s first mill.
‘Natural as Possible’
The town plans to leave the property in its natural state and add trails, a picnic area, water access for fishing and nonmotorized boats, and to use one of the existing houses as an environmental education center with restrooms.
There will be no swimming in the pond, which measures about three feet at its deepest point.
The grant funds will assist in paying for the property, renovating the large house into an environmental education center, draining and dredging the pond to remove sediments that prohibit wildlife from surviving in the shallow area, constructing a portion of the trail, and adding picnic tables.
All of that will increase recreation opportunities in this part of Aberdeen and southern Moore County, as it will be the first park of this type in Aberdeen, said Leigh Baggs, Parks and Recreation director.
Minimal parking will be added, and utility lines will be buried as part of the project.
“The intent is to leave the whole area as natural as possible,” Baggs said.
The town will likely seek bids on the project beginning in April, and work could start in May, he added.
Mofield said she remembers driving by the property countless times as a child. She never visited the pond, but was always curious about what was on the property.
“It has always been a place of wonder for me,” Mofield said.
To date, 94 species of birds have been identified on this property. Wildlife ranging from beavers, turkeys, turtles, fish, deer, bobcats and bears have all been spotted on the site.
Alicia Jackson, a biologist who lives on Bethesda Road, has documented more than 90 different birds on the property. She supports the town’s endeavors to create the park.
“I’m all for the park,” Jackson said. “I think we have so much development in this area now that it will be nice to have one chunk of land that won’t be condominiums.”
‘Preserved for People’
Aberdeen purchased the property from Jane H. Sandrock. She inherited the property from a family friend, Jack Morris, a longtime resident and conservationist who lived on the property until his death in 2003.
“I feel like this is a wonderful gesture,” Baggs said of Sandrock’s discounted sale price of the property. “Her generosity has enabled future generations, for many, many years, to enjoy nature.”
Sandrock said she wanted “to do right” by Morris and felt he would have wanted the land to be preserved for future generations to enjoy.
“I let the town have the land so it would not have high-rise condominiums and all kinds of buildings, even homes, on it,” Sandrock said. “I felt like it should be preserved for the people to enjoy and for the wildlife to have a place to go.”
Baggs said the property is of “significant historical value” because it is the site of the first operating mill in Moore County. Wood from the mill is said to have been used at the Postmaster’s House and Malcolm Blue Farm.
The larger home will be renovated into the environmental center. The smaller home will serve as office space for recreation department staff and rangers. The small shed on the property will be used for storage.
Baggs said the town will partner with the Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve to conduct environmental education for adults and children. She also said she has received a positive response from many teachers and administrators in the Moore County school system.
“We think the environmental center will offer a unique hands-on learning experience,” Baggs said.
Scott Hartley, park superintendent at Weymouth Woods, said his organization looks forward to working with the Aberdeen Parks and Recreation Department staff to provide a variety of unique environmental educational programs.
“It’s a different aquatic habitat, which we don’t have here at Weymouth,” Hartley said of Ray’s Mill Pond.
Weymouth put on roughly 400 programs for 7,500 people last year, and Hartley welcomes the opportunity to do more teaching.
“Environmen-tal education is a huge part of what we are here for,” he said. “We will be able to provide staff to do programs on a wide variety of topics.”
Ray’s Mill Pond Park will be handicap accessible and in compliance with all federal, state and local codes.
This is the second Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) grant the Aberdeen Parks and Recreation Department has received in recent years. It received a $500,000 grant to construct the Aberdeen Recreation Station in Aberdeen Lake Park.
The trust fund provides dollar-for-dollar matching grants to local governments for parks and recreational projects to serve the public.
Farrell said he is excited about the prospects for future generations to enjoy the property like he did when his father would take him there to fish or go on nature walks.
“We are losing land left and right,” Farrell said. “This property is an island in the middle of growth in southern Moore County. It will be a wonderful addition to the Parks Department and a wonderful asset for all the citizens of Moore County.”
Contact Tom Embrey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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