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Senate budget moves headquarters of river state park to Fair Bluff

The headquarters of the Lumber River State Park will move to Fair Bluff, if provisions of a Senate budget bill makes its way through the legislative process.

Columbus County’s two legislators, Rep. Brenden Jones, R-Columbus, and Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, as well as Fair Bluff native Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, predicted Wednesday morning that the language will survive in both chambers of the legislature and that the move of the state park essentially is a “done deal.”

The legislators could not predict a time frame under which the move will occur, however.

A four-line section of the 358-page Senate appropriations bill released on the General Assembly web site Tuesday night is short on specifics and only says the park headquarters “may move,” but Rabon was adamant Wednesday morning that it will happen.

The bill language says, “The Division of Parks and Recreation of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources may move the Lumber River State Park’s primary office and headquarters to the Lumber River Visitors Center in Fair Bluff. If the Division decides to relocate the headquarters, the Division and the Department of Transportation shall work together to enable and facilitate the move.”

The Lumber River Visitors Center is funded by the Dept. of Transportation (DOT), but it has been closed since its headquarters was destroyed in October by flooding after Hurricane Matthew. Under the proposed legislation, DOT and the Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) will cooperate to facilitate the park headquarters move.

Although the proposed legislation does not specifically list budget line items to make the move a reality, Rabon – who chairs the Senate Rules Committee that already has signed off on the provision, and who also serves on the Appropriation Base/ Budget and Pensions, Finance, and Retirement and Aging Committees through which the bill still must gain approval before coming up for a final vote in the Senate – said that money for the move is contained elsewhere in the proposed budget. He would not put a price tag on what the move will cost.

However, Rabon was emphatic.

“We’re going to move the State Park,” he said Wednesday.

Britt, who represents both Columbus and Robeson in the Senate, said that moving the headquarters to Fair Bluff will not create a problem for him with his Robeson County constituents, even though the park headquarters had been at Princess Ann landing in the Orrum community of Robeson County for many years.

“As it is, they’re not using the facility in Orrum now,” Britt said Wednesday.

The Lumber River State Park stretches along parts of the black water river from Pembroke all the way to the South Carolina state line. Britt said the park stopped using its Orrum offi ce some time ago and is operating out of an offi ce at the Agriculture Center on U.S. 74 near the intersection with Interstate 95 outside Lumberton. “That Orrum building is something that they’re having to do maintenance and upkeep on, but they’re not using it, so this proposal works for the park system,” Britt said.

Britt, Rabon and Jones all said the move is something they have been working on since even before the current General Assembly convened in January and that it will accomplish two goals: giving the State Park a more readily accessible, more visible location for park patrons and providing a much-needed shot in the arm for Fair Bluff as it recovers from Hurricane Matthew.

“We’ve been talking about it since before the election,” Britt said Wednesday. “It adds value to Fair Bluff, and the town really needs it. It’s a done deal. We’re good on it, and there’ll be no problem” in getting full approval by the General Assembly. “We’ve got a bunch of stuff we’re working on for over there in Fair Bluff,” Britt said, but he didn’t want to discuss specifics.

. Jones also was optimistic Wednesday about getting the legislative approval for the move. “We should be fi ne,” he said. “I don’t see any problems with that. Bill (Rabon) and I were talking the other day about the fact that nobody knows where the State Park headquarters is in its present location.”

Rabon said, “Because of all the logistics and working out the details, we can’t give a date certain that it will happen, but we’re going to move it and it will happen. It’s going to help get Fair Bluff up and growing again. I have discussed it with members of the (NCDR) Secretary’s staff and with delegation members in both chambers and the general consensus is that the public will be better served by having it centered in Fair Bluff. Unless you know where the current ranger station is, you can’t even get there. I have had people from Raleigh go down to visit the Orrum location and they were surprised at how out-of-the way it is.”

When the Lumber River State Park headquarters moves to Fair Bluff, it will join Lake Waccamaw State Park in being one of two state park facilities based in Columbus County.

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