State breaks promise to buy land at Mount Jefferson

By Alan Bulluck

March 17, 2014

The State of N.C. balked at its promise to purchase 111 acres of land belonging to the heirs of Wade Vannoy that adjoins Mount Jefferson Natural Area.

Now, that land is for sale to the general public.

“We had no funding to finish the acquisition,” N.C. Div. of Parks and Recreation Chief of Planning and Natural Resources Brian Strong said.

When asked if and when the state plans to purchase Phase III, Wilkes Co.-based realtor and listing agent for the property Carolyn Frazier-Pardue said, “I have no earthly idea and I’ll bet nobody in the State does either.”

In January, Pardue wrote a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory, on behalf of the Vannoy heirs, urging him to “put the wheels in motion” to get the state to follow through with its promise to purchase the land.

In a letter written to McCrory dated Jan. 10, 2014, Pardue, writing on behalf of the Vannoy heirs, wrote, “In 2008, the state took an option to purchase the entire tract of land consisting of approximately 372.26 acres. The state contracted to purchase one phase each year beginning with Phase I (154.657 acres), Phase II (106.794 acres) and the final Phase III consisting of (110.809 acres).”

The state finalized the purchase of Phase I on Mar. 16, 2010. Phase II was purchased Aug. 21, 2013. Both tracts of land are now part of Mount Jefferson Natural Area.

“While Phase II was purchased at a later date than originally agreed, due to the recession, everyone agreed that the state should have the land for future generations and the Vannoy heirs were happy to help by allowing the option to be renewed for the benefit of all,” Pardue wrote. “The state then, unfortunately, allowed the option to run out on Phase III.”

Pardue continued, “In the beginning, the state expressed their intentions to purchase the entire tract of land consisting of 372.26 acres and gave the Vannoy heirs an option to purchase the land in three phases. This was an agreement that was ideal not only for the owners but for the state and the community as well for the purpose of educational as well as recreational purposes. The heirs had expressed their desire for the property to be purchased as a whole and not be divided and developed commercially. The promise by the state to the Vannoy heirs was exactly what should have happened.”

New River State Park Superintendent Joe Shimel, who oversees Mount Jefferson Natural Area, said the park’s General Management Plan for Phase III calls for hiking trails, a picnic shelter and parking spaces. “There have been talks about overnight camping cabins, too,” Shimel said.

According to Pardue, state ownership of the land which lies along Naked Creek, aides in protection of the New River and could also help generate tourism revenue for the area.

“The state owning Phase III is a guarantee to protect the New River,” Pardue wrote. “The inclusion of a campground at Mount Jefferson Natural Area would enhance the draw for people to vacation while exploring the New River, Mount Jefferson, the Historic Towns of Jefferson and West Jefferson and the entire Northwest N.C. High Country.”

The Town of West Jefferson also sent a letter to the governor’s office, urging the state to keep its promise to buy Phase III.

“We wrote a letter back in February,” Town Manager Brantley Price said. “Their (Mount Jefferson Natural Area) plan to expand the park, add a campground and more hiking trails, it all sounds like a good idea.”

Meanwhile, the property is currently listed for sale on Carolina Realty Inc.’s website.

“It’s available for sale, the last tract and last phase,” Pardue said.

The listing price is set at $2,659,416.

According to the listing details, the property is “a tract of land that could be anything from a GOLF COURSE to a FARM.”

Shimel said he still hopes the Vannoys will continue to work with the state.

“The State is still interested and still pursuing that property,” Shimel said. “The land acquisition office is applying for different monies.”

Strong said that while the N.C. General Assembly was “generous in their funding,” there’s probably not enough to buy Phase III.

Alan Bulluck can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @albulluck.