Blowback halts plan for gravel game land roads

Courtesy The Pilot The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has currently put plans to widen and gravel several of the sandy roads in the Sandhills Game Lands on hold after receiving opposition.

HOFFMAN — A roads project in the Sandhills Game Lands has been put on hold after stirring up some opposition in Richmond and Moore counties.

At Tuesday night’s board meeting, Richmond County Commissioner Don Bryant talked about a plan he had read about in The Pilot, Moore County’s newspaper, that would lay down gravel on the roads in the SGL — a plan he is not happy about.

“My major concern is the harm that will be done to the natural environment (of the game lands),” Bryant told the Daily Journal.

The purpose of the SGL, according to a draft management plan, is to conserve and manage rare habitats and provide wildlife-related recreational opportunities to North Carolinians.

“We have been working on a game lands management plan for the Sandhills Game Lands and through this planning process — which included public input, staff input and engineering assessments — we identified needs for access and road improvements,” said Erik Christofferson, deputy director of operations for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

Ginny Inman, a spokeswoman with the N.C. Department of Transportation, said DOT crews were assisting the commission in the project.

Bryant, who has property adjacent to the SGL, said it was formed to protect and provide a habitat for the longleaf pine.

“For the headed shoulders on each side of the gravel roads, it would be necessary to clear over 177 acres of land,” he said.

Bryant said aside from the land loss, there are other reasons to object to the graveling of the roads.

“Foremost is the gravel is not a user-friendly surface for dogs, horses, nor people on foot,” he said. “Dogs don’t want to run on something like that. People don’t even want to walk on it.”

Commissioners voted to send a letter stating the county’s opposition to the project.

The SGL covers about 63,000 acres, two-thirds of which is in Richmond County.

“The potential of attracting more tourism through recreational use would be harmed by the gravel surfacing,” Bryant said.

Christofferson said the project would cost $1 million. However, The Pilot reported 24.3 miles of sand roads in the SGL are slated to be graveled and widened in the next seven years at a cost of $3.3 million, citing a letter from Southern Pines attorney Marsh Smith.

Christofferson said that 75 percent of the funding for the projects comes from a recent increase in Pittman Robertson funds, a federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition. The remaining 25 percent comes from hunting license receipts.

“We’ve completed approximately one mile of road repairs on Nursery Lane,” he said, “and are working on several other small repair areas within the game lands.”

He added that the repair areas are about 60 percent complete and that the commission would like to finish the repairs, but has put the project on hold to meet and discuss it with those concerned.

“There has been a lot of concern in regards to horseback riding and the damage the gravel might do to the horses’ hooves,” Christofferson said. “The roads that were being repaired still contain a minimum of a 4-foot sand shoulder on each side of the road and in some areas a larger area on the other side of the ditches that were created, which can be utilized for this type of use.”

“They don’t need the gravel,” Bryant said. “It’s a waste of money and time, period.”

He said with the amount earmarked for the project, the SGL could benefit from the development of a state park, “which could include a maintained campground and information for seasonal fishing, hiking, horseback riding and hunting.”

“Revenues from tourism would bring regular returns on the investment, and there would also be some employment created,” he said. “What a shame it would be to ruin a park of our invaluable natural environment while totally wasting valuable DOT funds.”

Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.