Hanging Rock State Park just became more accessible to visitors with the opening of new handicapped accessible picnic area.
Park Superintendent Robin Riddlebarger said most of the park’s amenities were constructed in the 1930s when handicapped accessibility was not a key thought in the planning process.
“Most of our picnic sites are on the side of a mountain,” she said. “They are not easy for anyone to get to. Clearly there is a need to have more tables that are easy to get to.”
Last week the park opened a new handicapped accessible picnic shelter connected to the lake parking lot and is working on getting four handicapped accessible picnic pads furbished along a new paved lake walkway.
The new amenities are the result of a partnership between the park and Access North Carolina.
“We came up with seven possible projects in 2011 and in 2013 we worked on figuring out which ones were the most needed and feasible with the money,” said Riddlebarger. “This final project built the beautiful picnic shelter and the picnic pads. They have a beautiful lake view.”
She said the new shelter features ten picnic tables, four of which are specially built to allow handicapped accessibility.
The project cost a total of $290,00, and Riddlebarger said the architects tried match the appearance of the new shelter to the historic shelters built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The project also included a new pathway to the beach area that will be handicapped accessible.
“It will help people get to the beach and the boat house,” said Riddlebarger. “We tried to keep the walkway out of the front of the bath house so it will be unobtrusive and not take away from the iconic view of the bath house.”
The new picnic shelter seats 80 people and can be rented for special occasions for $98 by calling 1-877-722-6762.
“When it is not reserved it is available for free on a first comes first served basis,” said Riddlebarger.
She said the park will have a grand opening for the new shelter on June 18 in conjunction with another special event, the park’s first Junior Ranger Day.
“This is the centennial year for North Carolina State Parks,” said Riddlebarger, noting that one of the key missions of the park system is to get younger people involved with nature. “We always have a Junior Ranger booklet that kids can go through on their own an once they complete it a ranger will help them take an oath and be sworn in as a Junior Ranger, but for this special event, in celebration of the centennial, we want to do a 100 Junior Rangers in one day.”
Riddlebarger said park rangers will have five stations set up designed to facilitate a quick process through the Junior Ranger program from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. on June 18 around the lake parking lot.
“We would like folks to preregister, but if they are here by 1 p.m. then we can still get them signed in,” she said. “We will break the kids up into five groups and parents can walk around with the kids as they go through the stations, or they stick around at the shelter where we will have live dulcimer music.”
Stations will feature everything from an interactive history of the park to a ranger detectives program. There will even be one station where the participating kids can work together to create a single piece of centennial art which will be on display at the park for the entire year.
“Part of the junior ranger program requires a stewardship project,” said Riddlebarger. “The friends of the Sauratown Mountains have built a new stairwell going from the new picnic shelter down to the pier and we will have the kids helping to fill it with sand. That way they will have something that can come pack to the park in future years and say they helped to create.”
She said after the kids have completed the program they will hear from a couple of guest speakers and have a mass swearing in ceremony followed by s’mores.
“People can register by phone, at the park office or by emailing email@example.com,” said Riddlebarger.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.