Buncombe seeks new county park via partnership

HOME HIKES: The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners hopes to secure what locals call "world-class hiking" for public use as a county park near downtown Asheville in the next few years. Image courtesy of Buncombe County

Within the next few years, Buncombe County residents may have new public trails to roam close to downtown Asheville.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously April 18 to partner with the Asheville-based conservation nonprofit Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy to explore acquiring 343 acres on Deaverview Mountain for what could become the county’s largest park. The mountain, which according to long-term residents was formerly known as Spivey Mountain, is about 5 miles from downtown.

“It is a really unique opportunity to preserve such a significant piece of property so close to the heart of the Asheville metropolitan area,” said board Chair Brownie Newman. “There is great value in having [a property that], for literally tens of thousands of people, will be accessible within a 10-15 minute, easy trip.”

The potential parkland was purchased in March for about $7.3 million by Deaverview Mountain LLC, a Raleigh-based legal entity. According to presentation materials from Allison Dains, Buncombe’s parks and recreation director, the “conservation-minded” owner has given the SAHC a three-year option to buy the property, at which point the nonprofit would donate it to the county.

Commissioners did not commit any county funds to the project. Instead, they directed staff to partner with SAHC to seek state and federal funding to complete the purchase, as well as conduct due diligence on the property’s use as a park. The total cost of the land acquisition is estimated at nearly $8.9 million; SAHC has so far applied for roughly $4.4 million in state grants.

Michelle Pugliese, land protection director for SAHC, expressed her support for the project during public comment at the April 18 meeting. But she warned commissioners that there was more work to be done.

“The development threat has not disappeared as it stands right now. [We are] working to purchase the land. If we are not successful, the current owner will have to recover his investment in the land and put a subdivision there.”

More than a dozen other residents also spoke to show their support for preserving the property. Jamie Ervin, who has lived in the area for about 15 years, said he used to hike the mountain regularly. He lost that access around 2010 when the property changed hands, he said.

“I’ve always thought that was one of the best opportunities to go hiking within the immediate area of Asheville, and I still think that, now that this is getting considered as a park. This is Buncombe County’s best opportunity to have a world-class hiking park,” he said.

BEST VIEWS: Locals who have hiked Deaverview Mountain — or Spivey Mountain, as some call it — in the past say it boasts some of the best views of downtown Asheville. Photo courtesy of Buncombe County

Benjamin Gilmer said he lives five minutes from the base of the mountain. His family and others in the neighborhood, he continued, would take an active role in protecting the park if it became public.

“This place is a true jewel. It would be a travesty to not secure this land for our people.

Our neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks; we don’t have parks. If we lost it, it would be something we would regret forever,” he said.

Several residents touted the property’s proximity to a bus line and the lower-income neighborhood of Deaverview as key reasons to prioritize conservation.

“This Deaverview Mountain project is one of the best opportunities I can think of for an equitable access to recreation opportunity,” said Ervin, who works to improve access to recreation through policy with the national nonprofit Outdoor Alliance. “This could be a place where a lot of people experience nature for the first time and increase their connection to the mountains here.”

Kim Plemmons represents the Erwin District, where Deaverview Mountain is located, on the Buncombe County Board of Education. She said a potential park could provide unique opportunities for neighborhood schools like the nearby Johnston Elementary. “Being able to take those kids outdoors to Spivey Mountain, or Deaverview Mountain Park, would be amazing,” she said.

Before the vote, Commissioner Parker Sloan remarked how uncommon it was to hear so many direct neighbors support the establishment of a park.

“When a parcel is going through a change, you don’t always hear immediate neighbors come out in support of that change,” he said. “That’s really cool, and it means a lot.”

If the county does acquire the land, Dains said there would be opportunities to build a parking lot, restrooms, educational kiosks and multimodal trails. Construction could start as early as 2027.


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