Sunday, July 14, 2024

Amid rapid development, Belville hopes to preserve — and embellish — riverfront property

An ambitious plan, currently ahead of schedule, will create another riverwalk destination in the Cape Fear.

The Riverwalk Park Fishing Pier is named after Mayor Pro Tem Joe Breault who dreamed up the park (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
The Riverwalk Park Fishing Pier is named after Mayor Pro Tem Joe Breault who dreamed up the park (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)

BELVILLE — As Southeastern North Carolina continues to attract new residents more development inevitably will follow, but in the Town of Belville, prime riverfront property will remain preserved for future generations thanks to the vision of Town Commissioner Joe Breault.

As few as five years ago, the town’s Riverwalk Park was not even the town’s property, it was owned by Brunswick County. Now the park is back in the hands of Belville.

Although Belville built the park in the 1980s, after Highway 17 was rebuilt and rerouted to bypass the town, the park was handed over to the county due to financial reasons, Breault said.

“The county had this property up until 2013. In December of 2012, I came up with the idea of building this park because there are 25,000 homes being built within five miles of where we are … I came to the realization that we cannot concrete over everything. We have to have something for our grandchildren’s children,” he said.

Breault and the town have ambitious plans for the park and even acquired additional land from NCDOT under the condition that the park become self-sustaining; that is exactly what Breault has planned.

According to Breault, the town does not want the park to be a burden on taxpayers, so funding has come from grants. Once complete, profits from a restaurant on the property will help the park pay for itself.

The Riverwalk Park Boardwalk extends more than 1,200 feet and future plans call to extend it further (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
The Riverwalk Park Boardwalk extends more than 1,200 feet and future plans call to extend it further (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)

The Park is to be constructed in three phases; it will include a boardwalk along the river, an outdoor amphitheater, a raptor center, a restaurant, educational facilities, and recreation facilities.

Phase one of the project included the installation of the 1,240-foot boardwalk, an outdoor classroom, a 125-foot fishing pier, and crushed rock paved nature trails.

Breault has had some help with the construction of facilities and beautification projects throughout the park, thanks to local Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and other youth groups. For Breault, involving the youth is a way to help residents have a vested interest in the park.

“I firmly believe if you get the children involved they take ownership. I’ve had five Eagle Scout projects in the park, at least a half a dozen Cub Scout projects, and now the girls have been doing beautification projects and plantings,” he said.

Educational facilities

As part of the effort to help educate, the town has partnered with the Cape Fear Raptor Center and has plans to build a new location on park property. The raptor center will hold a number of species native to the area, and will be the new home to birds that are unable to be re-released into the wild.

An artist rendering of the proposed raptor center at Belville's Riverwalk Park (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
An artist rendering of the proposed raptor center at Belville’s Riverwalk Park (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)

“It’s going to be a $2 million structure, a little over 6,000-square-feet … When the public enters the Riverwalk they will go by bald eagles, hawks, owls and ospreys and other birds of that nature that are indigenous to North Carolina,” he said.

Thanks to a grant from Duke Energy, the town has successfully constructed and outdoors science classroom for students and teachers to use.

Thanks to a grant from Duke Energy the Riverfront Park is the home to an outdoor science classroom equipped with all things needed to conduct science classes (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
Thanks to a grant from Duke Energy the Riverfront Park is the home to an outdoor science classroom equipped with all things needed to conduct science classes (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)

“A key function of this park is to incorporate and accommodate the NC K-12 Science Core Curricula via live interaction with the environment as opposed to classroom-based textbook study,” Belville’s website states. “The Duke Energy Education Pavilion has been designed to satisfy just such a need. Classes held within the pavilions surrounding wetlands and riverfront will be broadcast live via WiFi and Skype over the Brunswick County Wideband Network enabling live interaction by all 12,200 students within the school system.”

A self-sustaining park

The Riverfront Park in Belville will be the home to a permanent farmers market as well as a restaurant that will help provide funds to sustain the park (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
The Riverfront Park in Belville will be the home to a permanent farmers market as well as a restaurant that will help provide funds to sustain the park (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)

Per the agreement with the NCDOT and the county, the park has to be self-sustaining and not a burden on taxpayers, Breault said. That is where a planned restaurant and farmers market come into play.

The park already serves the community with events from May through December. They include a weekly outdoor market where vendors sell produce and seafood. The market has been so successful that two vendors are donating an 800-square-foot permanent farmers market building to the town.

We did a test market with Sea View Crab and Port City Produce, both local and well-known vendors.  From June until now, they come in every Friday through Sunday. They have been so pleased with the public response that they are putting up the 800-square-foot structure at their expense,” Breault said.

The restaurant will be located on town property and used to help provide future funding for the park.

“The restaurant will go right next to the fishing pier … This will be the only publically accessible waterfront restaurant in 40-miles of riverfront on this side of the river. The income from the restaurant, because the town owns the land, will be used to maintain and sustain the park,” he said.

Looking towards the future Breault hopes to have the funds raised for the raptor center within the next 2.5 years.

If things go according to plan, he hopes to extend the boardwalk all the way to the Battleship North Carolina making it one of the longest boardwalks on the East Coast. Plans are already ahead of schedule, he said.


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