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Mt. Holly Colors its Future Green
From the Charlotte Observer...

Hurt by a snub in a tourism video, the city pushes hard to create a parkland image

MOUNT HOLLY - A painful moment a few years ago prodded Mount Holly to launch its plan for a system of parks along the length of its riverfront and along the banks of its major creeks.

The Gaston County Department of Tourism had released a video promoting the county, and as Mount Holly officials watched, they realized their city was never mentioned. The department had listed 17 reasons to visit Gaston County, and none had anything to do with Mount Holly.

"It was almost as if we had no public image beyond our own borders," said David Kraus, the city manager.

So the City Council and residents decided in 2003 to create an image for their city of 10,000: They would build a system of parks and greenways to make their city a paradise for pedestrians and outdoor lovers.

"When you've got 100 miles of trails through a city within driving distance of Charlotte -- there aren't any other cities like that," said Mayor Bryan Hough.

They hope this image will come to drivers' minds as they read the city's name on exit signs along the future northwestern arc of Interstate 485, which they expect to energize development in and near their city.

But the obstacles were obvious from the start. The city did not have the money in hand to buy much land. The land it coveted was held by numerous private owners. And even if the money could be found, some were not likely to sell.

The riverfront park system would have to loop around the Riverfront subdivision on the Catawba near the city's southern boundary. And far more jarringly, it would have to avoid the large Clariant Corp. chemical plant on the river next to downtown Mount Holly.

While it has resolved none of those obstacles, over the last two years the city has marched steadily toward realizing its dream through a variety of creative means.

Last spring, the city opened Mountain Island Park on 49 riverfront acres leased from Duke Energy for a dollar a year. In June, the city announced the company had agreed to sell more than 200 acres on either side of the park if the city can secure a $2.6 million state grant. The grant is available because the parkland purchase also would protect water quality in Mountain Island Lake and upper Lake Wylie.

Last summer, Mount Holly voters approved a $2.3 million bond to acquire land and construct a greenway from downtown to the river, ending at a park at the foot of the N.C. 27 bridge.

This spring, the city acquired the last of 29 acres of riverfront land contiguous with the nine-acre Tuckaseege Park, south of downtown. Sixteen acres came from Clariant Corp. at a total cost of $50,000, and 13 acres were deeded to the city as a condition of the development of the Riverfront subdivision. And the city continues to piece together parcels along Dutchman's and Fite's creeks, which flow through Mount Holly on their way to the Catawba.

Backing this effort is the Mount Holly Community Development Foundation, a citizens' group founded in the wake of the city's epiphany in 2003. The foundation is quietly seeking large donors to help pay for parkland purchases. It plans to launch a public fund-raising campaign this fall. The foundation also is working with developers to encourage land donations and pedestrian walkways.

"We want to attract people who appreciate an active lifestyle," said Lee Beatty, the foundation chairman. He said the Dutchman's Creek greenway alone could connect pedestrians with about a dozen subdivisions and the downtown.

That, in turn, could help Mount Holly attract the kinds of office jobs that would complement its evolution from a mill town into a suburban community.

"We want to make this a city that will attract small companies who would love to be

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