Wilson Daily Times Jun. 29, 2007

Park becomes overrun

By Keith Barnes Daily Times Photojournalist

What began as a master plan in 2001 to reduce flooding along Hominy Swamp at Recreation Park has itself turned into a political swamp of sorts.

The combination of uncontrolled vegetative growth and tall weeds along the 2,700 feet section of stream running through the park, which was once kept neatly trimmed, has now given it a jungle-like look.

Wilson Mayor Bruce Rose is among those concerned and upset with the overall appearance of the area.

"I was embarrassed during the Heart Walk (held at the park in February) with so many people asking me why we didn't cut the weeds," said Rose.

The problem seems to have started in 2001 when state officials were called in by the city to provide solutions for the chronic flooding that always seemed to occur along Hominy Swamp following heavy rains.

Rose said recommendations were made and put in place at that time which included the planting of trees and allowing all weeds and underbrush grow to heights not seen previously — head-high in some places.

The state plan was approved by the city council; but Rose said the plan didn't work out as intended.

The city of Wilson granted the state a 4-acre conservation easement for the project which includes the entire area along the creek within the park.

"I'm sure they didn't realize it was going to end up like this," said Rose.

"I think the trees are fine but the problem is the underbrush," he said. "And, we're not allowed to cut anything. It just destroys the whole look of one of Wilson's most beautiful parks."

While other city officials, including city council members, have expressed similar regrets over the appearance of the creek, an even bigger concern is that no one seems to know what, if anything, can be done about it.

The city has documents explaining the easement, which contain language stating that some vegetative cutting can occur, but the wording is so vague that city officials are unclear as to what they can cut or how often.

No one at the city can say who is in charge of monitoring the project for the state, or what would happen if the city chose to cut the tall grass on its own without getting state approval.

The project began under the control of the Wetlands Restoration Program, but it has since been changed to fall under the state Ecosystem Enhancement Program, although no local officials are clear what that change means either.

Phone calls by the Daily Times to state agencies believed to be in charge, whose numbers were provided by the city, were either not answered or were not returned.

"The park belongs to the citizens," said Rose "and should be a place for people to go and enjoy themselves."

Rose said he met with state officials about a year ago regarding the problem, but nothing has been done.

He said it is his understanding that if the grass along the creeks is cut, the city will be subject to reprisal from the state in the form of a large fine.

As one city official said during a conference call about the problem, "When you find out who's in charge of this mess, please let us know."

barnes@wilsondaily.com | 265-7855