On seven acres at the end of Scotts Hill Road in Amherst, the noise of a bustling creek and birds chirping fills the air in soaring temperatures on a late May afternoon.
The roar of vehicles speeding along U.S. 29 Business in Amherst can be heard in the distance beyond the trees and a few park benches are located in shady spots offering a scenic view of the secluded area beyond the state-maintained portion of the road off Garland Avenue.
The Town of Amherst owns the 7.1-acre tract, which it purchased from Dave McCormack, president of Waukeshaw Development, Inc., a Petersburg-based company developing a former mill across the highway on Union Hill Road into a brewery and restaurant. While the company has a small piece of the property off Scotts Hill Road for access to a dam, the town owns the majority of the landscape there and envisions it as a place where its first town-operated park will at some point start operating.
During a recent interview at the site, Town Manager Sara Carter said the town envisions picnicking, kids playing near the creek and people enjoying shade and a peaceful view. A dog park, a fenced-in area for folks to bring their dogs and let them roam around, also is a strong possibility, Carter said.
The town’s first park is not a traditional park with athletic fields and playground equipment. Its planned uses include trails, a picnic pavilion and a bridge over the creek that runs through the property near Amherst County High School.
“It’s a lot to work with,” Carter said of the site. “This is not a location to put high-traffic park uses … we would start relatively small.”
Amherst Town Council’s community relations committee, which consists of members Janice Wheaton and Sarah Ogden, were set to tour the site Tuesday evening with Carter and get an up-close view. Carter said she would take the committee’s feedback and use it to form a strategy for moving forward with getting the site up and running.
Town maintenance staff recently cleaned up the property, mows the grass and several rows of Iris flowers given by the Village Garden Club currently are on the site, along with a few benches an Eagle Scout built, Carter said.
The idea for a dog park originated from feedback from town residents in a recent online survey about the town exploring the potential of a leash law.
“This is a pretty piece of land because you’ve got the water on it, you’ve got the topography. It’s a pretty, rolling piece of property,” Carter said. “It is nice from the perspective it’s more isolated.”
The transportation network isn’t optimal, as Scotts Hill Road is narrow, but an advantage is there are no neighbors directly abutting the site. “It’s going to have a huge impact on just about nobody. We just have to be mindful the traffic counts don’t get too high. It won’t have the noise impact.”
Council voted last summer to spend $35,000 to buy the land prior to the elections of Wheaton and Ogden.
Wheaton said prior to the June 4 committee meeting she has concerns about the property serving as a park and she has spoken with residents who raised concerns over safety since it is isolated, inadequate ingress and egress not only for park visitors but emergency responders and flooding.
“As it has been said by citizens, this area becomes a moat when it rains,” Wheaton said. “I visited this area after a heavy rain, and it was what I considered to be a mess.”
Wheaton said she feels a study is needed for a potential dog park and she wants residents to be kept informed of any plans for the property. She believes neighborhood groups should be included in a study.
“There are many questions to be asked and we are just getting started,” Wheaton said. “I look forward to hearing from our community and others regarding this project.”
Carter said any future park uses would be by-right and not legally subject to a public hearing, but she emphasized the town is open to having public input on the process as it moves ahead. She said its location in a floodplain would present more of an issue if the town was looking to build structures there but it isn’t. She said the town has taken public comment when it pursued the land purchase and understands the concerns about the narrowness of Scotts Hill Road.
“That’s a very real concern we need to be mindful of,” she said.
Carter said she feels the close proximity to U.S. 29 presents more concerns with noise than safety and noted topographical barriers. Adding a row of trees near the property line with the highway may be an item to consider, she said.
The area has potential to connect with South Main Street near the high school, she said. “I envision bike trails down here,” she said. “It would be a nice loop for jogging or biking.”
Mayor Dwayne Tuggle said town officials are looking for opportunities for recreation and hopes the park also will tie into bike trails around Amherst. A dog park also would be an important addition to Amherst with the discussion of a leash law being enacted, he said.
Carter said once up and running, the park would be maintained under the town’s budget and is separate from the county’s parks and recreation system.
“This has been a relatively new priority for the town,” she said of the park.
Ogden said prior to the June 4 committee meeting she thinks a strategically placed dog park there has potential and it is imperative for the town to provide an area for dogs to play if a leash law is enacted. A formal recommendation on a leash law has yet to come before town council.
“I personally feel like the property is a great place to create an area where folks can go to get a little fresh air and stretch their legs,” Ogden said. “… Being in the heart of town makes it super convenient for our citizens. Done right, I think this is a fantastic addition to town.”
Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.