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Work on North Carolina's Damaged Hanging Rock Visitors Center Slowed by Problems

Mon April 19, 2021 - Southeast Edition
Greensboro News & Record


A rustic wood-and-stone building, constructed in 1996, the visitors center shuttered its doors in 2020 to make repairs to weather-related damage to its exterior, according to park officials.
A rustic wood-and-stone building, constructed in 1996, the visitors center shuttered its doors in 2020 to make repairs to weather-related damage to its exterior, according to park officials.

The Hanging Rock Visitors Center in Stokes County, N.C., won't reopen as expected, due to a series of problems that have slowed renovations to the water-damaged visitor center.

The variety of issues have some folks questioning the integrity of the $25 million structure.

A rustic wood-and-stone building, constructed in 1996, the visitors center shuttered its doors in 2020 to make repairs to weather-related damage to its exterior, according to park officials. The building's decking, siding and structural supports, as well as the chimney, needed fixing.

"There was a lot of water damage, lots of rot," Jason Anthony, a park ranger at the 9,011-acre state complex, told the News & Record.

It was hoped the visitors center would be able to reopen in April, but Anthony said it will take at least until summer's end for construction crews to finish the job.

Simcon Construction Co., in nearby Mount Airy, is the general contractor of the renovations.

The reasons for the delay in finishing repairs are many, Anthony added.

The pandemic struck last spring at about the time improvements were set to begin, he noted. As a result, Simcon's crews couldn't get going on the fixes until it was almost winter. More delays in the work were caused by season-long rain and snow.

And the damage was more extensive than originally thought, Anthony said.

In speaking with the News & Record, he acknowledged there have been concerns that the center's original design put too much of an emphasis on making the structure "aesthetically pleasing" as opposed to long-lasting.

North Carolina voters in 1993 approved a $35 million bond referendum that funded the original $1.8 million construction of Hanging Rock's visitors center.

The renovation work, as well, is being financed by $75 million in bond money approved by voters in 2016. It's one of 45 state park projects that received the funds.

Hanging Rock State Park was built in the 1930s as a Civilian Conservation Corps project. Located in the ancient Sauratown Mountain Range, 30 mi. north of Winston-Salem, the park features a campground, picnic sites, a stocked lake for fishing, swimming and canoe rentals and more than 20 miles of hiking trails that climb onto spectacular views and weave alongside clear streams and waterfalls. Dotted with multiple rock outcroppings, the small range features several ridges and knobs, the tallest of which is 2,579-ft. Moore's Knob.

The park's visitor's center was the first of its kind in North Carolina, adding an educational component to the park experience with a classroom for visiting students and exhibit space highlighting the park's attractions.

Other state parks have since followed suit with their own similarly spacious visitor centers.

With the center closed, visitors to Hanging Rock have adapted as best they can, Anthony said, noting there are maps posted at most of the primary trailheads and guests can find several portable toilets in the parking lot outside the visitor center.

Complaints have been relatively few, Anthony said.

"We've all witnessed how adaptable our park visitors are," he added.

The News & Record reported that despite the park being closed for seven weeks during March and April 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, Hanging Rock boasted a record year for visitors, with 867,911 passing through the gates — a 26 increase to the park's usual 690,000 visitors.

"That's remarkable considering we were closed for almost two months of the year," Anthony said. "For a long while, parks were the only thing open."

In fact, there were times during the past year, he said, that the Hanging Rock State Park was so crowded that its gates had to be closed and would-be visitors turned away.




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