Greenville officials hope people are ready to discover their wild side with the official opening of Wildwood Park.
Elected leaders, program supporters and people representing the team that designed and built Greenville’s newest park gathered Friday for a ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the completion of the first phase of the park, located on 365 acres north of the Tar River east and west of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The park officially opens at 10 a.m. today with a grand opening event featuring water sport activities, inflatables, food trucks, a nature trail scavenger hunt, a camping platform demonstration, face painting, art stations, and more.
The Switch will also be performing live music from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“It’s very exciting because you know Wildwood is going to outlive us,” said Gary Fenton, Wildwood resources coordinator and former director of recreation and parks. “Looking at my retirement and saying what’s next, you think what we’ve already done will be impacting people like Elm Street (Park) has impacted thousands of people.”
The majority of people responsible for Elm Street’s development are no longer around, he said, but 50 years later it’s a place people continue to enjoy.
The section of Wildwood that has opened includes a sandy beach area, a floating dock with boat slips and accessible kayak launch, a 1.5-mile natural trail, the waterfront camping platform, paved parking and shelter and site improvements.
“Wildwood Park is the latest example of why the City of Greenville continues to be a place where people want to be,” Mayor P.J. Connelly said. “It is something that is going to be just beyond a park. We’ve created a destination, a place where you can find your adventure, be it on the water or on the land.”
The city purchased the 163 acres that open today on the east side of the highway in 2019 with a $850,000 donation from Greenville businessman Eddie Smith, his company Grady-White Boats and the Eddie and Jo Allison Smith Foundation. The city later purchased 185 acres west of the highway.
Grady White Boats continues to support the park, donating money to build a BMX track and mountain bike trail. Construction should be completed in 2022.
“Everybody at Grady White Boats is a benefactor, and all our associates are excited about what this is going to mean to the community and the part they’ve played in it,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time coming on one end, but it’s a dream being realized, frankly, faster than I could have imagined. It’s really amazing what they’ve done in a short period of time.”
Smith said while he’s pleased with the water access amenities, he’s also excited to the natural trails which will eventually loop around the lake that is the center of the newly opened park and connect to the Tar River.
“It’s really going to enable people to get out and enjoy and appreciate nature,” Smith said. “An active outdoor lifestyle is so important to good health and health of a community. We’ve become so busy as a society we don’t do the things we used to do as families. We don’t go outside recreating.”
“So far the greatest part of the park is the accessible kayak launch and the sidewalk to get to it,” said Don Octigan, Greenville Recreation and Parks director. “Just the landscape area we’ve been able to accomplish, we’ve done a lot of great things near the water while keeping the environmental challenges and concerns in mind. It’s the wow factor right now.”
Octigan also is pleased that Pitt County Soil and Water Conservation District worked with the city removed debris from a canal that links the Tar River to the lake, giving motor boats access to the park.
While today’s opening event ends at 2 p.m., the park will be open from dawn until dusk, Octigan said. City staff will begin finalizing operational guidelines for the camping platform and park beginning next week, he said. The guidelines may change based on community usage and special events.
The City Council on Monday approved the park’s development plan, which along with the BMX track and mountain bike trail will include an observation tower, boardwalks, additional trails, more camping platforms, and a nature-themed playground.
Staff is meeting with consultants next week to begin designing the 125-foot tower, which will stand in the east side lake, Octigan said. Some maps show the lake is called Barber Lake, he said, but the city is still researching to confirm the name.
The estimated cost for the first two phases of the park is $24.12 million. Fenton is launching a fundraising effort.
“There is no question that this park will be a game changer for our community, a place where you just might find your wild side,” Fenton said.