Car club seeks to rent out Pilot Mountain park

The Associated Press

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CHARLOTTE – A North Carolina bill would allow a group of Triumph car owners to rent Pilot Mountain State Park during a national convention in September.

The Vintage Triumph Register wants to reserve the park’s 2.5-mile twisting, summit road for a daylong “hill climb” on Sept. 11. If legislation passes that allows the park’s 25 mph speed limit to be waived, state officials appear ready to grant the request for a $10,000 fee.

The state Sierra Club said the permit would open the door for similar requests for exclusive use of a public park.

“This really shuts the public out of their own park,” said the Sierra Club’s state director, Molly Diggins. “And it would appear to shut them out of the process.”

But Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration calls it a rural economic development opportunity. The National Natural Landmark, a public park since 1968, is about 80 miles northeast of Charlotte. The national convention of the Vintage Triumph Register is set for Sept. 9-14 in North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley.

“We’re going to expose some well-heeled people to a beautiful part of North Carolina,” said Brad Ives, an assistant environment secretary who oversees parks.

Key figures, including convention sponsors and brothers Ed and Charlie Shelton of Shelton Vineyards, were heavy donors to McCrory’s 2012 campaign. Ives said McCrory played no role in the legislation.

Ed Shelton said he didn’t use any political influence to make the hill climb happen.

“There were no political favors,” he told the newspaper. “This is more of a community event.”

It’s not unusual for state parks to be partly closed for events such as the annual Assault on Mount Mitchell endurance bike ride at Mount Mitchell State Park. Ives noted the 2012 filming of “The Hunger Games” involved private use of DuPont State Recreational Forest near Brevard.

The car club event would eliminate the public’s use of the road to Pilot Mountain’s summit for the day, though a separate portion of the park on the Yadkin River would remain open.

State parks post 25 mph speed limits. The Triumphs are likely to go uphill at 45 mph, leading to the legislative proposal letting the state’s environment secretary waive the speed limit.

Internal emails show convention hosts approached Pilot Mountain officials about the event in early 2013. Pilot Mountain park superintendent Matt Windsor warned last year the hill climb would be unsafe, saying the curving road was not built for high speeds. He also feared that keeping the public from the summit could risk its federal designation as a National Natural Landmark.

Records show little further discussion until earlier this month, when a Shelton Vineyards official delivered a permit application and a $1,000 check.

“We’re doing it on a weekday, not a weekend, and it’s not in the summertime so we didn’t think it would impact the public as much,” said Steve Ward of Charlotte, president of the Triumph Club of the Carolinas and coordinator of the national convention.

If the permit isn’t granted, the group has permission to use a rural road elsewhere in Surry County.