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Pilot leaders updated on park projects

PILOT MOUNTAIN — Fourteen months after work began, the final stages of the construction project are within sight at the Pilot Mountain State Park Visitor Center.

That was the message from park superintendent Matt Windsor, who made those remarks during a Lunch With Leaders gathering Thursday in Pilot Mountain. The event was sponsored by the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce and the Pilot Mountain Business Council.

Windsor was the keynote speaker for the noontime meeting at Mountain View Restaurant, where roughly 60 people gathered to hear his talk.

Windsor told those gathered that Pilot Mountain State Park has always been a destination attraction, as a resort dating as far back as the 1700s, then as a private campground, and since 1968 as a state park.

Since the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation took over the park, the number of visitors has exploded.

“Fifty years ago when it became a state park, we had 50,000 visitors the first year,” he told those gathered Thursday. “Last December, the park had 59,000 visitors (in one month).”

He said that number of visitors — which easily tops 700,000 a year — has put a strain on the park at times. The day after Thanksgiving, for instance, he said visitors had a one-hour wait time just to get into the park.

That’s one of the reasons he’s excited about the construction of the visitor center and related improvements.

The center construction, he explained, is being paid for with Connect NC Bonds, championed by former Gov. Pat McCreary and approved in 2016 by state voters. Initially, Windsor said the Pilot Mountain State Park project was earmarked to receive $6.7 million, though all Connect NC Bond projects were later cut by 25%, reducing the local park’s funding to $4.4 million.

That, he said, is more than will be needed. Initial cost estimates for building the center and doing related upgrades came in at $3.1 million, and he believes the project will yet finish under budget, as well as very nearly on time.

The initial goal was to be finished by March 12, though the project will run a little longer than that. “I’m hoping we’ll be done by mid-April,” he said.

Along with the visitor’s center, Windsor said parking spaces will more than double, and officials there are looking to improve some of the trails, camping sites, and at least one of the overlooks.

He told the gathering one of the problems with the park is that when most of the trails and overlooks were built, the Americans With Disabilities Act did not exist, so visitors in wheelchairs or dealing with physical limitations sometimes cannot access parts of the facility.

The overlook to be upgraded, however, will give handicapped visitors the chance to utilize the site equally with able-bodied visitors.

Another project Windsor’s excited about is the shuttle service to be offered as part of a three-year test program. The service will shuttle people into and out of the park, even up to the famous knob. While visitors still will be free to drive their own vehicles, he said he hopes the shuttle service will alleviate a lot of the sometimes bumper-to-bumper traffic the park experiences at peak times.

After Windsor’s remarks, Randy Collins, president and CEO of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber, made some brief remarks.

“We’ve got to figure out how to get more people out of the park and into Pilot Mountain,” he said to general agreement by those in the room — mostly business owners, managers, and local officials. “We’ve got people coming to the park, and we’ve got all the things going on in town, there’s a lot going on in Pilot Mountain,” he said.

The town has experienced a resurgence of sorts over the past couple of years, with a number of new downtown festivals and fairs drawing weekend visitors. Part of that effort has been the formation of the Pilot Mountain Business Council, which is working in conjunction with the chamber to drum up new business for the town.

Thursday’s Lunch with Leaders was part of that effort, explained Pam Morgan, who serves on the business council. She said the group tries to meet at least monthly, with a Lunch With Leaders, a Lunch And Learn, or a Business After-Hours event.

“We’re trying to be more active,” she said after the meeting had concluded. “It’s not about fundraising. It’s about helping one another, helping our businesses grow.”

And, she agreed, maybe finding a way to lasso some of those state park visitors into visiting the town’s businesses.

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About 60 people were on hand Thursday at Mountain View Restaurant in Pilot Mountain for a Lunch With Leaders program sponsored by the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce and the Pilot Mountain Business Council.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/web1_20200130_123445.jpgAbout 60 people were on hand Thursday at Mountain View Restaurant in Pilot Mountain for a Lunch With Leaders program sponsored by the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce and the Pilot Mountain Business Council. John Peters | Mount Airy News

Pilot Mountain State Park Superintendent Matt Windsor spoke Thursday, giving people an overview of the visitor center construction program and other improvements at the park.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/web1_20200130_123700.jpgPilot Mountain State Park Superintendent Matt Windsor spoke Thursday, giving people an overview of the visitor center construction program and other improvements at the park. John Peters | Mount Airy News

By John Peters

jpeters@mtairynews.com

Reach John at 415-4701.

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Source: https://www.mtairynews.com

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