Robbins Hears About 'Sandhills Heritage Gateway' Initiative
Potters, planters and others from every endeavor up and down N.C. 705 - the "Pottery Highway" - met Thursday night in the old Village Theater in Robbins to hear about a new initiative.
It was the first event in the theater since a nonprofit foundation began work to bring it back to life.
Jesse Wimberley and Candace Williams, of the Sandhills Area Land Trust (SALT), had invited them all to unveil a new highway sign and a new idea: Turn that road, along with two other state highways winding up out of the Sandhills into the Uwharrie foothills, into a new scenic byway: "Sandhills Heritage Gateway."
"Tonight is the beginning," Wimberley told the crowd. "This is the first night of this project."
Wimberley is SALT's community outreach manager, and will manage the scenic byway project - an effort he estimated would take eight months. The plan is to pull together every business, farm and craft or art along the Pottery Highway from N.C. 73 to the Robbins Crossing at N.C. 24/27, through Robbins, over Bear Creek and through pottery country.
Guests passed under a lighted white canopy frame to dine at round, red-draped tables on cuisine provided by the new Eden's Garden restaurant in Robbins, just down the block from the Village Theater.
On the stage was displayed a large image of SALT's new sign for the byway: "Sandhills" on a blue field over a red bar, and "Heritage Gateway" above three diamond images representing signs for the three roads: an arrowhead for N.C. 73, a long- leaf pine cone for N.C. 24/27, and a pottery urn for N.C. 705.
At the rear of the hall, beneath the balcony, was a table with a large map. Each visitor was encouraged to use colored pens to add scenic, cultural, industrial, historic or other points of interest to the N.C. 705 route.
During dinner, presentations were made introducing various organizations and government agencies involved in aspects affecting residents who live and work in the N.C. 705 area.
Carla Hunt, an assistant county ranger with the state forestry service, said their principal concern is fire control, but the service offers help with anything involving trees.
County Tax Administrator Wayne Vest explained how some property taxes can be deferred based on land use: forests (20 acre minimum), agriculture (10 acres) or horticulture (five acres.) Forms and other materials were made available.
Fenton Wilkinson, of the Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative, explained how the co-op he represents saves consumers money while paying farmers more. Its members get deliveries directly from the local farmers.
"Harris Teeter says 'local' produce is anything grown within 600 miles," he said. "For us, it is grown in Moore County or any of the counties contiguous to Moore."
Taylor Williams explained the services available through the Cooperative Extension Service office in Carthage. There was a presentation by Jonathan Russell, director of the Moore Soil and Water Conservation District, and Kevin Williams, the Natural Resources Conservation Service director, introduced the NRCS's new soil conservationist, Emily Koone.
All these were related to SALT's mission: to conserve the rich natural resource and natural heritage landscape of the Sandhills region for the benefit and enjoyment of the citizenry of today and future generations.
SALT's focus area is the six-county geographic area of the Sandhills. To date, the community-based nonprofit has conserved 11,600 acres, resulting in the protection of working farms and forests, drinking water, high-quality wildlife habitat and open space.
"I am a sixth-generation farmer," Wimberley said. "I am outreach manager for SALT, and I am also manager of the Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines."
He told how division of the family farm lands left him with swampland nobody thought was worth much at the time. Now clean water is one of his products. His farm is the headwaters of Drowning Creek, source of water for the Southern Pines area.
Wimberley spoke of the economic vitality of the foundation's dream of bringing the Village Theater to life as an attraction for the northern part of the county. N.C. 24/27 is projected to become a four-lane divided highway in the future, part of a plan to improve travel between Charlotte and Fayetteville. That will mean the theater and restaurants and shops in Robbins would someday be a little more than an hour from that city.
Other cities are already close enough. Midtown Greensboro is an hour away to the north, up N.C. 705 through pottery country. Chapel Hill is even closer.
Wimberley praised the dream of the Robbins Village Foundation and introduced the board's president, Teresa Thomas.
She drew lottery tickets for three prizes: a hand-crafted quilt with a "Wizard of Oz" theme, a hand-built yard swing, and a $50 Walmart gift card. In the lobby, the foundation showed a new video about the effort rebuilding the theater.
Afterward, looking at the sign design for the Sandhills Heritage Gateway, Robbins Mayor Lonnie English said he had one thing to say: "It's the best looking highway sign I've ever seen."
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or jfchappell @gmail.com.
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