SILER CITY — The Siler City Parks and Recreation Department has been fielding complaints about Boling Lane Park and the department’s director Joseph Keel is concerned about the perception that …
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SILER CITY — The Siler City Parks and Recreation Department has been fielding complaints about Boling Lane Park and the department’s director Joseph Keel is concerned about the perception that staff is not keeping the park well-maintained.
The dilemma between perception and reality rests in the fact that the park’s creek and its riparian buffer — a vegetated area designed to help protect the waterway from impact from adjacent uses — was created using a Community Conservation Assistance Program grant, which inhibits the tools and scope of what department staff can do to maintain the area, according to Keel, who addressed the matter Monday with the Siler City Board of Commissioners.
The wetlands and riparian buffer were installed at Boling Lane Park for several purposes — to slow flooding during major rain events in the park and the parking lots across the street from the park, to help clean and filter the storm runoff before it made its way into Love’s Creek, an impaired waterway, and to create a habitat for dragonflies and other insects that will reduce the mosquito and fly populations in the park and surrounding areas.
The grant that funded installation of the riparian buffer includes a stipulation that maintenance on the area can be completed using hand tools alone in order to ensure that the specialty plants placed there — including water filtering grasses, red buds, and berry varieties — aren’t damaged during the maintenance process.
Keel said he believes the complaints aren’t an accurate portrayal of the work his department is doing at Boling Lane and the town’s other parks, and says the grant stipulation has “handcuffed” the department.
Keel asked the Siler City Board of Commissioners on Monday for guidance, requesting the town consider returning the grant money and allowing his department to use weed-eating equipment and commercial mowers to mow down the grasses and plants that make up the riparian buffer.
Keel noted that the grasses could qualify as a “noxious plant” under town code; however, it was noted by both board members and the town’s planning director, Jack Meadows, that the code also includes protections for riparian buffers and therefore may not actually qualify as a “noxious plant” because it “serves a purpose.”
The board was sympathetic to the challenges the department is facing with Boling Lane Park but were hesitant to rescind the efforts of the project when the plant growth has not yet completed its second year. Mayor John Grimes said the town undertook the project to improve water quality and noted that he had seem a marked reduction in mosquito and fly activity in the area.
Commissioner Chip Price also noted that he had done a similar project on his farm to prevent livestock from entering the creek on his farm and impairing the waterway, comparing the seemingly unkempt riparian buffer to the first couple of years of his project.
“I’m concerned we’re trying to do too much too quick,” Price said in regard to mowing down the vegetation. “Especially when the growing season will end in a month.”
Commissioner Lewis Fadely echoed that sentiment, stating that he would like to wait to let the specialty plants grow more and see if the grasses subside in the fall.
Price also provided some insight into the typical life-cycle of the grasses stating that as the frost hits the grasses would brown, weaken and fall over. Those plants would then make a “mulch” for the specialty plants. He also noted that as the specialty plants grew taller, the undergrowth would be smaller.
Commissioner Cindy Bray said she believed the town should give the grant money back and “unchain” the department.
“Commissioner Price makes a lot of sense,” Fadely said. “It’s almost the end of the season. Maybe we can do both — put the money aside and wait to trim.”
Commissioner Bill Haiges agreed. “Let’s see what that gets us and set the money aside just in case,” he said.
The board was in general consent of the compromise and will set aside the $2,788 grant funds and wait until the growing season has ended before re-evaluating the status of the riparian buffer.
“What’s a noxious plant to you is a pretty weed to me,” Price said.
“I agree,” Keel responded.
Reporter Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.