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Those in the know had Westgate Nature Park to themselves for the spring, summer and fall, but Leland officials let everyone else in on the secret with an official park opening Friday, Oct. 25.
“It’s been effectively open for nearly a year. We wanted to put in the final touches,” Niel Brooks, Leland Parks and Recreation director, said.
The park is off Westgate Drive, which snakes around behind Walmart on U.S. 17. The entrance sits off a large roundabout on Westgate Drive, across the street from the Ploof Road Extension that runs near the back row of houses in the Arbors at Westgate.
The Westgate Nature Park covers about 3 acres, with a third of a mile asphalt trail that leads from the entrance to a raised wooden boardwalk. The trail does not loop around the property, but winds from Westgate Drive down to the wetlands.
The park entrance includes a curb- and gutter-lined parking lot with 20 marked spaces. The walking trail is in place, and a nature-themed playground sits at the front of the park.
The town was involved in the design and selection of the playground items, which include tree-themed or animal-shaped equipment.
In the playground and along the trail are fact sheets about wildlife and plants that are part of the area.
The town chose a mat of bonded rubber to cover the ground under the play area, which simulates mulch without having to be replaced as often.
As part of the landscaping, Brooks said, the parks and recreation department chose edible plants like blueberry and beautyberry bushes and rosemary so visitors can pick them.
“We wanted to put in plants so kids could see (and touch) them,” Brooks said. “We tried to make it as kid-friendly as we can.”
Just past the playground at the front end of the park is an events lawn big enough for special events and small gatherings.
“It’s an area where you could put up small tables and tents for an activity,” Brooks said.
Leland Public Works will handle park cleanup and maintenance.
Developers who own property in the Westgate area, Nathan Sanders and Jack Stocks, donated land along Jackeys Creek for the town’s use. Sanders donated the new Westgate Park land.
Westgate Nature Park was paid for with a Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) project $500,000 grant.
The grant was approved in December 2010, and work began in 2011.
The value of the land that was donated from the developer was used for matching funds.
“A PARTF grant paid for this — state money built this, so it’s important to lobby your legislators, otherwise you will not see towns be able to do this,” Brooks said.
The park trail is a 10-foot-wide asphalt path wide enough for pedestrians, dog walkers, bikes and wheelchairs to use with room to move around others.
“The 10-foot path meets North Carolina standards, which we have to meet to get further grants,” Brooks said.
The town has put money aside in the capital reserve fund for matching grants for future projects, Brooks said.
Cynthia Tart, Community in Schools executive director and a PARTF board member, attended the official opening for the ribbon cutting, which she performed with the help of Brunswick County Commissioner Pat Sykes — or, more specifically, Sykes’ 2-year-old grandson River Sykes, who was slightly larger than the ceremonial scissors used for the occasion.
The town hosted a 5K run at the park on Groundhog Day 2013 to promote the new park and will do it again next February.
Brooks said the park is the first phase of the development of 140 acres of donated land Leland intends to use to create a larger park.
Brooks said the area surrounding the park is all zoned for multifamily use so the park, as it expands, will provide open space as the area is developed.
They also want to build a connecting trail to link Westgate with Brunswick Nature Park.
“This is a great opportunity to get people out in the woods,” Brooks said.
Brian Slattery is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or email@example.com.