Wednesday, August 10, 2022

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Private group eyes building park near Gravelly Hill Middle School

A 38-acre park complex – that would be developed, funded, and overseen by community members – is being planned just outside of Mebane, near Gravelly Hill Middle School.

As envisioned, the park complex, to be named Patriot’s Park, would have six or eight baseball/softball fields, with one that would be multipurpose; a gym and/or community center; walking trails; and pavilions for large gatherings, as it is described by Craig Lloyd of Efland, who is spearheading the project.  Patriot’s Park would be built on a triangle-shaped parcel of vacant land at the corner of Bushy Cook and West Ten roads in Efland, near Gravelly Hill Middle School at 4801 West Ten Road, Lloyd confirmed this week for The Alamance News.

Patriot’s Park would be built “pretty much across the road” from Gravelly Hill Middle School, which is part of the Orange County school system and adjacent to the “Soccer.com Center” along West Ten Road in Efland, Lloyd said in an interview Tuesday.  (Comprised of five soccer fields and a walking track, the Soccer.com Center is managed by Orange County’s parks and recreation department and sponsored by soccer.com, one of six companies that are owned by Sports Endeavors, which is headquartered in Hillsborough and has a distribution center in Mebane, according to the company and Orange County government.)

A native of Efland, Lloyd is a former director of the Hillsborough/Orange County chamber of commerce and son of longtime dairy farmer and former Orange County commissioner Andrew “Ben” Lloyd, Jr.

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The younger Lloyd and a friend had dreamed of building a park for more than 40 years, he recalled Tuesday.    The park was initially envisioned as providing a replacement for the gymnasium at the former Efland Elementary School, which closed in the late 1970s.  While the original school building was later demolished, the original cafeteria and a classroom building are still standing, now home to the Efland Ruritan Club along Forest Avenue, Lloyd said this week.

Lloyd grew up playing sports with the Hillsborough Youth Athletic Association (HYAA), which has four ball fields that are tucked behind the town’s main drag, Churton Street.  He says his idea for a park took on more urgency several years ago, after Hillsborough’s town board approved plans for Collins Ridge, a 100-plus acre residential subdivision that would raze the Daniel Boone Village along Churton Street, taking with it HYAA’s athletic fields.

Two of his and his wife’s children currently play for HYAA, which Lloyd credits as jumpstarting his work on Patriot’s Park.  “I kind of saw that we’re running out of places to have ball fields and things for kids to do so we started kicking it [plans to build a park] into high gear,” he elaborated Tuesday.    “It will be an asset to our community, I believe.”

Patriot’s Park would be built in multiple phases.  Lloyd says the initial phase would consist of a ball field that would be followed by a multipurpose field.  Subsequent phases of development would include the construction of a community center and/or gym; and finally, construction of bathrooms, a concessions area, and pavilions – and possibly even an amphitheater, based on concepts he outlined for the newspaper this week.   “A lot of it’s just a clean slate,” Lloyd said.

Years ago, a concrete and stone amphitheater, built in 1971 on the northeastern side of Daniel Boone Village in 1971, provided an outdoor concert venue for musical acts that were “headliners” for their day, such as Loretta Lynn and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts.  Today, the amphitheater is largely overgrown, with brush and trees overtaking terraced steps that once served as seating for concert-goers.

Offering multiple sports and activities in a single park complex would be a bonus for parents like Lloyd and his wife.  “When we had three kids playing the same day, it was hard for me and my wife to be in three places at one time,” he explained.

“We don’t really have any big facilities,” Lloyd added, pointing to one of Hillsborough’s longest-standing event venues, “The Big Barn” at Daniel Boone Village, which was shuttered around the same time that plans for Collins Ridge were approved.

A preliminary master plan is being developed for Patriot’s Park and will be submitted to Orange County’s planning board once it’s complete, Lloyd said this week.  He’s also working with a company to develop a layout and determine the best placement for six to eight ball fields, as well as the multipurpose field, on the site.

The Wilmington-based Cameron Foundation donated the 38 acres for the park last month, Lloyd confirmed for the newspaper.  The future site of Patriot’s Park originally had been part of a much larger expanse of vacant land totaling more than 235 acres, according to the Orange County GIS system.

An aerial shot of the acreage for the new park at the triangular intersection of Bushy Cook and West Ten roads near Gravelly Hill Middle School.

Lloyd says he doesn’t have a specific contractor in mind for the project yet but is working with HYAA “because so many people have been involved for years and years and have [done] a ton of contracts” for that organization.

In the meantime, Lloyd says he’s recruiting volunteers to join a board of advisors for a nonprofit organization, Hillsborough-based Meridian Community Foundation, that he established in 2016 to oversee development of the park complex.

“We’ve got people who are retired from parks and recreation; we have people that have kids or grandkids involved [in sports],” Lloyd told the newspaper this week.   “We can really help shape this, but we definitely need support, financially and [through] volunteers, to help it evolve.  We want to build an awesome park.  Anybody that can move us in that right direction would be much-appreciated.”

Meridian Community Foundation would retain ownership of Patriot’s Park, which likely would be managed by HYAA, Lloyd said.  “We definitely want to have it where the whole park is a public park,” he explained.

Story continues below graphic.

Another conceptual idea of the new park.

The foundation will hold fundraisers, which Lloyd hopes will provide the financial footing necessary to bring Patriot’s Park to life.  In April 2021, Lloyd plans to host a hot air balloon festival – which he has dubbed the Tarheel Balloon Festival – at the Barn at Lloyd’s Dairy, which is located along U.S. Highway 70 East between Mebane and Hillsborough.  Funds raised from admission to the Tarheel Balloon Festival will be put toward construction of the park, which Lloyd says he hopes will begin within the next year.

“Basically, we’re looking at it as publicly-funded [through] donations,” Loyd said this week.  Sales from concessions would provide additional support; and corporate sponsorships would be offered in exchange for promotional signage on fencing around the ball fields and inside the gym, as he described the financial structure for Patriot’s Park.

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