Wilkesboro, known for its outdoor music festivals and recreation, continues to invest in its growing community through the opening of a new universal playground, made possible by ARP funds.
Nestled along the Yadkin River, the Town of Wilkesboro in Western North Carolina has undergone a significant revitalization over the past decade. The town of approximately 3,700 residents is known for its outdoor music festivals, such as MerleFest and Carolina in the Fall, and has recently embraced becoming a destination for outdoor recreation. In addition to miles of walking and mountain bike trails, the town is also home to a world-class disc golf course and campground site at their wastewater treatment plant.
Through the funds distributed as part of the American Rescue Plan, the town encountered an opportunity to invest even more into its ongoing growth and development. Wilkesboro received approximately $1.1 million in ARP funds, which they opted to put towards the replacement of lost revenue due to the pandemic. This allocation freed up other funds which the town has now invested in a number of projects.
The largest of these projects is the creation of an inclusive playground at Cub Creek Park. The playground was already part of the town’s plans, but the ARP-enabled funds they received allowed them to increase the scope of the project and build Cub Creek into a destination park. The playground opened this fall and is already becoming a place where residents of Wilkesboro are coming together and inviting in new visitors from outside of the town.
“By doing this park you’re investing in your community, you’re investing in children of all ability levels, […] you’re investing in visitors that are going to be able to come and use your park and your playground,” Regina Mathis, NCLM ARP Field Representative, said.
Additionally, Wilkesboro creatively combined its ARP-enabled funds, state grants, and private donations to build the playground, meaning that no tax-payer dollars were used for the more than $1 million project.
“None of this would be possible without our ARP funds,” Halee Ratcliff, Wilkesboro’s Finance Director, shared. “Sure, we would still have the park, but it wouldn’t be nearly the magnitude it is now without those ARPA-enabled funds. That got us over the finish line to make this the crown jewel of Cub Creek Park. It was a great project and we’re really thankful.”
In addition to the playground, Wilkesboro desired to invest the funds in tangible outcomes for the community. They were patient in determining other projects, waiting for the right opportunity, and ultimately purchased two pieces of property—a historic home with plans to preserve this piece of Wilkesboro history and a tract of land along US-421 that they plan to use for economic development in the future. Neither of these purchases were planned in the initial yearly budget, but because of the ARP-enabled funds, the town was able to make a move when the opportunities arose. The town plans to use the properties for continued investment in the growth and revitalization of Wilkesboro for years to come, allowing their ARP-enabled funds to continue to make an impact.
“The hope is that this is going to trickle into our downtown and our other merchants and give them a boost in business,” Ratcliff said. “The economic development is more of a long game, but I hope that we do something that makes our residents proud to call Wilkesboro home and I hope we can preserve that character that I think a lot of people really cherish around here.”
The League is working alongside Wilkesboro in ensuring the town has the support needed to help them navigate a number of new processes that have come along with the ARP funding.
“I can tell that [Halee Ratcliff] is really invested in Wilkesboro and really wants to move them forward,” Mathis said.
And the town is taking advantage of a number of the League’s ARP services, including transitioning over to software provided by the League’s Municipal Accounting Services (MAS). The system will upgrade the town’s financial system and the League will provide them with personalized assistance throughout the transition.
“[The League] has made sure I have all the resources I need as a new finance director to keep us going in the right direction,” Ratcliff said. “It’s nice to know we can call on them and have someone in our corner as an advocate for a small town.”