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Park groundbreaking Thursday

What started as just an idea for Angela Norris and several other supporters of area veterans will soon become reality.

A groundbreaking will be held Thursday, Jan. 14, at 11 a.m. at the Columbus County Veterans Memorial Park. The park is being built at 6354 James B. White Hwy. S., Whiteville.

The facility will eventually feature static displays, walking trails, memorials to the county’s war dead, and a small museum featuring the Hall of Honor. Organizers hope to display a photograph of every county service veteran, whether they served in peace or wartime, in the hall.

“I can’t believe we’ve come this far,” Norris said.

Norris is president of the local chapter of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and a member of the Vietnam Veterans. Her husband Randy served in Southeast Asia, and the pair are heavily involved in local veteran organizations and support efforts.

The park idea was born two years ago.

“We need to remember the sacrifice of everyone who has ever served their country,” Norris said. “We can never do enough to honor our veterans.”

Originally, Norris and other volunteers wanted to find a location close to Whiteville on U.S. 74-76 for the park. A plan to build the park at Southeastern Community College fell through due to state regulations.

Some property was available for little or no money, but none of it was suitable for the group’s plans.

County commissioners promised to provide $50,000 for the project, but the money could not be used for buying land. Norris and her volunteers then embarked on a series of ongoing fundraisers that have attracted attention from across the county.

They formed a non-profit, so donors could see tax advantages for their gifts.

A dance, plate sales, motorcycle rides, and the popular Columbus County $5 challenge added to the coffers while Norris was tracking down leads about possible property for the park.

Last fall, the group found a farm for sale in the New Hope community. The available land had sufficient highway frontage, more acreage than the seven acres called for in the plans – and was available for $65,000. Volunteers closed on a $42,500 loan with BB&T, with two annual payments.

Members of the park group erected a sign and flag there last fall, and on Thursday mor ning, veterans of all branches and time periods will join dignitaries and local leaders for a groundbreaking at the site.

“We hope we’re going to have a good crowd,” Norris said.

A start date for construction hasn’t been set, Norris said, but volunteers expect work to begin sooner rather than later.

“There is a lot of support and interest for the park,” she said. “It’s gratifying to know people do still care about their veterans.”

Immediately after the groundbreaking, a chicken bog plate sale will be held at the Whiteville National Guard Armory on the Chadbourn Highway. Plates are $7, and can be eaten in or taken out. All proceeds go to the memorial park.

“This is a big step, but it’s just the start,” Norris said. “All we’re doing right now is buying the land—there’s still a lot of planning and then the construction to worry about. We need all the support we can gather.”

Hopes are for the park to become a day trip destination for travellers from outside the county, as well as local residents wanting to honor and remember the military.

“This park is for our veterans,” she said. “They gave everything for us, whether they were under fire or serving at home. We owe it to them to never let their sacrifice be forgotten.”

For more information,or to donate, call 840-3848.

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