Pine Street Site. Over the past 20 years Pine Street and the current Macon Bank property have been used for a variety of public events, including the annual Christmas Tree Lighting and street dances. Most of those events were shifted to other venues when Macon Bank built on the site 2006. A Village Green. In May of 2005, the Town’s Planning Board finalized a new 5-year Land Use Plan, which suggested trying to retain the look and feel, and some of the fabric, of a 19th century village. One of the important features of such a village is a “village green,” or central park (square), which could provide recreational green space for both young and old, as well as serve as a venue for outdoor community events. In fact, the town’s Land Use Plan eventually cited the old post office property as a tract that could possibly serve as a park.
Purchase of Property. With the relocation of the Highlands Post Office, the tract located on the corner of Fifth and Pine streets went into private ownership and when zoning permission to use the property for a multi-story warehouse for acclimatized storage fell through, Janet and King Young suggested turning the property into a park. An ad hoc committee was formed to purchase the property and oversee its conversion to a town park. Using an account established by the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust specifically for that purpose, the committee began raising money to purchase the park. During that period Macon Bank agreed to lease a portion of its property facing Pine Street to the town to serve as amphitheater seating for a new park. In 2007 an individual was found who agreed to purchase the property and hold it while the money could be raised. The property was purchased for nearly $760,000. It was deeded to the town on Feb. 19, 2008, specifically for use as a public park.
Contributions from the Community. Over a two-year period the committee raised nearly $900,000 for the park from various individuals and organizations (both public and private), including the Land Trust ($50,000), both Rotary Clubs, The Town of Highlands ($300,000), and the Macon County Board of Commissioners ($200,000). Contributions from individuals and corporation totaled approximately $300,000. Funds left over after the purchase and associated costs were used for a few improvements at the park, including the crosswalk and the sign erected last spring.
Park Development to Date. The sub-committee formed in 2006 to purchase the site also initiated efforts to design the park. That committee eventually became an official subcommittee of the town’s Recreation Committee. In the last eight years, various designs for the park were developed in conjunction with the committee by Hank Ross of Ross Landscape Architecture of Highlands, who donated his time to the project. As early as 2006, Macon Bank donated a gazebo, which was moved to the park to serve as a temporary pavilion. And in 2009, the town installed a major a storm water runoff project under the park property. That project, funded by federal stimulus money, was designed to clean up surface waters on that end of town and reduce flooding. That project was considered the best green project in the state at that time. A raised walkway across Pine Street was also constructed to connect the park to the Macon Bank property, and grass-paved parking spaces were added. As part of the planning process, students in the art class at Highlands School suggested developing an historical theme, leading the town to change the name from Pine Street Park to Kelsey-Hutchinson Park. While a design was finalized several years ago, little has been done to implement the plan. The park has been used in recent years for various events, including craft fairs, historic gatherings and the like, but there are currently no facilities for day use by individuals and families.
The Future of the Park. While a comprehensive design for the park is complete, it was never specifically approved in total by the town, and no further work has been done due to lack of funding. In the fall of 2013, several community organizations came to together to begin exploring the possibility of implementing the most recent design for the park through a combined public/private effort. That initial group was composed of representatives of the Highlands Rotary Club, the Mountaintop Rotary Club, the Laurel Garden Club, the Mountain Garden Club, the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, the Highlands Plateau Greenway, and the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society. However, the Founders Park Coalition hopes other community organizations will join in the effort. The group formally began working with town officials in December of 2013.