Sale of Land May Bring Eno River State Park to Hillsborough
The transaction of property from Classical American Homes Preservation Trust is contingent on fundraising.
Hillsborough may join the Eno River State Park family if the sale of more than 200 acres near downtown goes through next year.
The Eno River Association is facilitating the sale of property from Classical American Homes Preservation Trust to the state for inclusion in Eno River State Park and to the Archaeological Conservancy. The transaction, contingent on fundraising, would bring total state park lands in Orange County to more than 4,000 acres.
As part of the transaction, the preservation trust would donate 23% of the estimated $2 million land value. The remaining funds must be raised over the next year through public and private sources.
"We are ecstatic to have Eno River State Park coming right to the heart of Hillsborough for the benefit of our residents, our local businesses, and our visitors,” Hillsborough Mayor Jenn Weaver said about the potential sale. “The speedway property and the river are integral parts of Hillsborough’s cultural and environmental health and identity, and this transition would ensure these treasures are protected and open for the enjoyment of the public and benefit to the community for many years to come. Our residents and visitors will be able to enjoy all the terrific restaurants, art and retail that downtown has to offer and then walk to state parks on either end of Riverwalk.”
The property is located around the trust’s Ayr Mount historic site, a Federal-era plantation house just outside of Hillsborough.
The approximately 20-acre Eno River bend parcel planned for ownership by the Archaeological Conservancy is part of historic downtown Hillsborough and contains four known early settlements dating to A.D. 1000, including the remains of an Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation village on the banks of the Eno dating to A.D. 1690.
The remaining roughly 200-acre parcel identified for ownership by the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation includes the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail, of which the dirt speedway is the only surviving dirt track from NASCAR’s inaugural 1949 season and is listed on the National Registry of Historical Places. The trail system includes four miles of recreation trails within the speedway and the neighboring James M. Johnston Nature Preserve, a state dedicated nature preserve. The trail system connects to the Hillsborough Riverwalk and is an integral part of the N.C. Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Classical American Homes Preservation Trust began purchasing the riverside parcels in 1993 and placed much of the land under conservation easements to permanently protect it from development, helped dedicate part of it as a state natural area, and worked with the volunteer Historic Speedway Group to open the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail to the public in 2003.
“Ensuring the long-term stewardship of these unique properties was our primary objective for working with the Eno River Association,” said Kevin Cherry, vice president of the trust. “With this transaction, the ecology of the area will be preserved, the speedway will remain accessible for low-impact recreation, and the archeological sites will be protected and available for research and teaching. We welcomed the opportunity to help the association and other conservation groups in their efforts.”
The Eno River Association and the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation are applying for local, state, and federal funding to support the project. The association also has secured a $100,000 gift from the Harkrader Family to inspire new or increased donations made by individuals to the association this year.
Donations can be made at www.enoriver.org/eno-to-hillsborough to support the association’s work in managing the project and securing grants for natural space expansion. Community support will help ensure the Eno River Association can reapply, design other campaigns, or use funds in reserve to help the state purchase the property if grants are not secured.
The Eno River Association is offering activities related to the land transaction. Check www.enoriver.org/eno-to-hillsborough for additional information and to register.
- March 26: Eno-to-Hillsborough Public Hikes ― Three guided hikes will explore different themes of the property and the association’s mission of history, culture and nature. Hikes are at 10 and 11:30 a.m. and are limited to 15 people each. Registration is required.
- April 5 at noon: Virtual information session.