ROCKINGHAM — The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission showed off the completion of the renovations to the Diggs Tract, which is part of the Pee Dee Game Land, on Thursday.
The game land is located in the southern portion of Richmond County. The tract renovation project made many road improvements, enhanced the habitat area surrounding the tract and updated the handicapped-accessible boat ramp and floating dock.
Jeffrey Marcus, Piedmont wildlife diversity supervisor, led a group of people — including representatives from Richmond County, the city of Rockingham, The Cole Foundation and Wildlife Commission — around the newly renovated land and pointed out the changes made to the area.
“We started the process of acquiring the land around 2007,” Marcus said. “It has been a long process and we are glad to see it finally completed.”
The total amount of land involved in the project is approximately 1,665 acres, Marcus said.
“It is a large piece of property and a lot of money was involved,” Marcus said. “We had to join with a number of organizations to get the project under way.”
The project received money from The Conservation Fund, the Clean Water Management trust fund, the Natural Heritage trust fund, the North American Wetland Conservation Act and from The Cole Foundation.
“Each of these organizations donated to the project due to the high quality of streams that can be found in the area along with the significant amount of natural habitats that can be found in this area,” Marcus said. “The wetlands here are impressive despite the fact that it is so inland.”
The total project cost approximately $3.5 million for the land acquisition with around another $130,000 to improve the two miles of road in the area along with renovating the boat ramp and floating dock, Marcus said.
Marcus, along with a number of others, was heavily involved in the process of acquiring the land that was originally owned by what is now Duke Energy Progress.
“The land was originally purchased by Progress Energy in hopes of using the water for hydroelectricity,” Marcus said. “This eventually fell through so the company started selling off the land.”
The boat ramp on the property when the utility owned the land was not built for heavy public access. This has now changed with the renovations that have been made. It is now made of concrete and able to handle public traffic.
In addition to the new boat ramp, there were a number of signs, designed by Tracy Rush of Sandhills Ecological Institute, around the area highlighting the history of the tract, the wetlands and the Pee Dee River.
Monty Crump, Rockingham city manager, praised the changes that have been made as it touched home for him since he grew up along the Pee Dee River.
“This part of the river was not available to the public for so long,” Crump said. “This is a project that was long overdue. We want to make our state resources available to the public. We want to make our mark and make it better for the community, and you (Wildlife Commission) have clearly done this. I take my hat off to you.”
Ben Moss, Richmond County commissioner, agreed with Crump as he said “now everyone in the county, regardless of status, will be able to enjoy this area.”
While the renovations of the boat ramp and floating dock have given a new pastime for those in the county who are fans of water recreation, the changes to the land have added to the habitat available to the wildlife in the area.
Some of the trees in the area have been thinned out to make way for small game and wildlife, said Eli Beverly, technician for the Wildlife Commission. It will allow for the traffic of rabbits, quail, turkey and deer.
“We are not just managing for a particular species here in the area,” Beverly said. “There will be a number of animals that will benefit from this renovation.”
Russell E. Bennett Jr., trustee for The Cole Foundation, was truly pleased with all he was seeing.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Bennett said. “It truly is a tribute to Richmond County.”