Committee Wants Tannery Park To Move Forward -Brevard NC


March 30, 2017

The chimney stack on the property is a major reminder of its historic past. (Times photo by Derek McKissock)

The proposed Tannery Park project in Brevard could be soon moving ahead with the incorporation of bathrooms as part of the "phase one" plan.

The city's Parks, Trails and Recreation Committee recently supported the bathrooms moving ahead with the project. The committee's suggestion will now go before City Council for any final approval.

Committee member and Councilwoman Ann Hollingsworth said she'd like to see the construction of the park coincide with the preservation of the natural environment of the properties.

"I really hope we preserve the natural area because there are a lot of people who, unless they are able to drive a car, they don't have access to nature unless they can get up to the national forest," Hollingsworth said. "I'd just caution that, while it's nice to do all this, once you start moving dirt, tearing down trees and building structures, you could lose the natural element that would make the park unique."

Josh Freeman, who was until recently the city's community development and special project's director, agreed with Hollingsworth and said that idea is fundamental to the project.

"The concept of the design is to work with the natural resources," Freeman said.

As previously reported, the city purchased the former tannery property for $250,000 from retired Congressman Charles Taylor in 2014. It covers more than 12 acres and is located along Cashiers Valley Road and Silversteen Road, with a smaller property adjacent to the site that is included in "phase one," which would allow access to the site.

The city purchased a third site from Satpal and Sudha Rathie for $150,000, which is a little more than 12 acres, located off McMinn and Silversteen and borders Rosman Highway.

"We've been working on what we call the Tannery Park Project for probably going on five years now," Freeman said. "The city acquired the property in 2015, and since then we've been working on trying to develop a master plan for the site that shows the property being developed into a park."

Freeman said the city has been working with the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund Grant to obtain a grant to fund the first phase of the project, which he said will include trails and "light park amenities."

"There will be subsequent phases to this project, but right now we are focusing on phase one, which is trying to get at least some level of minimal public access to the property so we, as citizens, can begin using it as a community park," Freeman said.


In Freeman's presentation for the proposed project, he discussed the property's history, outlining possibilities and limitations.

"The Transylvania Tanning Company started around 1916 and produced leather goods that got turned into purses, pocket books, shoes, anything that was made of leather before it ended sometime in the 1950s," Freeman said.

Freeman said it was not a "clean operation" because it dumped its byproduct into Norton Creek. He said there is lead contamination near the smoke stack because lead is a byproduct of coal, and it was primarily a "coal-fire operation," which ran the mechanical functions of the plant, such as heating water to removing fat from the hides of skin, which themselves were transported by train.

"Slaughterhouses in Knoxville, Tenn., and Asheville, N.C., would ship these rawhides in stacks on rail cars that brought them into the facility," Freeman said. "Then they would strip away the materials and tan it into leather."

Freeman said the Rosenwald Community was built around the site and was the major employer of Brevard at the time until the Ecusta Plant opened.

"It sits in the heart of our traditional African American community in Brevard, and from a historical perspective, the tanning operation was critical to how that area evolved, with major businesses and restaurants being built around that area," he said.


Because the operation was run on coal fire, which produced lead as a byproduct, Freeman said there are localized areas around the smoke stack that have evidence of lead in the ground.

He said there are solutions to address the issue.

"You could dig it up, put it in a dump truck and haul it to a landfill that's qualified to handle that kind of soil," Freeman said. "Another solution would be to put clean soil over the surface on top of the lead and maybe cap it."

Freeman said he didn't want to "overplay" the contamination issue.

"It's a localized and isolated percentage of the overall property," Freeman said. "It sounds scary but it's not as difficult to fix as one might think."

In addition to lead contamination, the property is classified as a floodplain by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We can't build buildings or any other kinds of structures," Freeman said. "We have to be really careful with what we do in that area."

Freeman said water runs off the impervious surfaces and into the tannery property and Norton Creek, so any structures they build couldn't impact the property's ability to handle the floods.

"We've got to be able to preserve the ability to handle those kinds of flash-rain events within the narrow band of the Norton Creek Basin," he said.

Freeman did say that they could have recreational fields, picnic shelters and walking trails, as long as they didn't impact the area's ability to absorb potential flooding.

"The idea is to work with the land so that it may continue in its natural function of receiving that storm water," Freeman said. "It's a limiting factor with what we can do with the property, but not so limiting that we can't do something fun with it. We just need to be careful."

The last limitation with the property, Freeman said, is that two wetlands have been identified on the property by the environmental consulting firm Equinox in Asheville.

"Equinox came out and did a detailed assessment of the plants, trees and all low-lying areas, and they found two wetlands on the old tannery property," Freeman said. "The challenge of these is they are regulated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, so we have to preserve them and treat them as a natural resource because there are a lot of birds, wildlife and unique vegetation in that area."

Freeman suggested working with the U.S. Corps of Engineers to possibly relocate one wetland and incorporate the other into the park as an educational tool.

"And really, from a limitation perspective, it sounds like a lot, but it's really normal for this region," Freeman said. "It will just take time and patience."

Freeman said the northern portion of the tannery property has become in itself a "wild space" within the past 10 years after Taylor no longer mowed it.

"It's in a transition state from being an open field to an area comprised of plants and species that don't belong in the United States or in North America," Freeman said.

On the southern end of the property, he said they have discovered a unique hybrid of a butternut walnut tree, and he said poplar and sycamore trees have created a canopy serving as a habitat for deer and other kinds of mammals, including a red-tail hawk which has been identified.

Freeman said when they talked with neighbors of the property, they said they wouldn't mind seeing a park built with walking trails, but that they want the city to preserve the ability to have wildlife on the property.

Also on the southern end of the property, Equinox discovered what he said they identified as a native river cane, which Freeman said Cherokee Indians used to make baskets.

"So, that could be preserved for wildlife habitat and educational purposes," Freeman said.

Freeman said it could be not just a park for recreation, but an educational, natural laboratory.

"All this property you see on the tannery side, as well as the more natural features on the Rathie side, could be viewed as one of the best public parks in Western North Carolina," Freeman said. "It's a place where you could bring science classes. It could be an outside laboratory for schools."

Public Input

Rodney Locks, who had been on City Council from 1997 to 2013, said it's a great idea, but that he would like to see bathrooms and a small sports complex.

"It would be nice somewhere to go inside as opposed to walking around on a trail, with maybe a basketball court or something like that," Locks said.

Planning Board member Keenan Smith said he would like to see a "pump track" eventually built into the design.

"A pump track is essentially a circular track which is essentially a playground for bikes," Smith explained. "It could be very beneficial, and I am waiting to hear back on an exact amount lined up through Oskar Blues Can'd Aid Foundation, so it would be nice to utilize that."

More opportunities for public input on the project will be held during the Brevard City Council's regularly scheduled meeting on April 24.


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