The Bull Hole: RiverPark brings folks from all over to enjoy nature's beauty.
Story by K.C. Smith - Progressive Davie - July 2015
When Lynn Rumley and the rest of the Cooleemee Historical Association had the facts before them, they had a choice to make: do nothing or put one foot in front of the other to begin an uncharted course to save the Bull Hole.
In 1997, there were serious concerns about the reduction of water flow over the dam and with the possibility of the Rowan County side being bought to clear the land for a trailer park. It was time to take action. In October of 1998, the CHA contacted state officials to get a survey for a nature park. They concluded that the Bull Hole was a significant place of natural beauty, it deserved to be a park and would have an important economic impact on Davie and surrounding counties.
A conceptual plan for a park was funded by the CHA. In 1999, a River Task Force was formed with Ken Sales as chair, including, Don Byerly, Edwin and Anita Owens, Lynn Rumley, Jim Foltz, Bert King, Mike Gamer, Ken Sales, Jeff Michaels, Ronnie Bivins, Bill Martin, Ann Miller Spry, George Calhoun and two members of the town board, John Chandler and Fran Parker.
In October of 1999, the task force contacted Pilot View Inc. of Winston-Salem. That company specializes in consulting work for nature parks and adopted RiverPark at Cooleemee Falls as its priority.
A bidding process landed Valley Crest from Charlotte as general contractor for Phase 1, centered on the Rowan County side.
Roy Pender of Winston-Salem was the park's designer. "I don't want to see one tree harmed," he said.
January of 2000, Joey Shore, native of Cooleemee, delivered thousands of tapes and CDs to the CHA doorstep of which he funded himself. His donation on the Davie side to complete the almost 80 acre project.
The main focus was to acquire land on both sides of the river and start with low impact development.
In 2002, looting of artifacts had been discovered and Wake Forest Archeological Labs came in to examine the site. For two months, volunteers helped dig more than 80 test holes that stretched across 30 acres.
The artifacts revealed Indian occupation dating back 10,000 years when the Native American tribes migrated to North Carolina. These artifacts were of unknown tribes.
In addition to the significant discovering of Native American artifacts, a grist mill wall that began as early as 1790 was found.
In the fall of 2002, when all the land had been purchased, the Bullhole was dedicated by Native Americans. This blessing of the land involved Liz Singing Butterfly, Daniel Morningstar and Damon "Mountain Bear" Asad. The Indians were thankful to bless the land once roamed by their ancestors.
The grand opening of the RiverPark was held in November of 2003.
In a column written by Mike Barnhardt in the Davie County Enterprise Record, "No More Jokes: The Bullhole Is Going Up Town," he stated: "Never underestimate the people of Cooleemee. When they want something done, they go at it with all their hearts. They wanted the Bull Hole back, and they got it."
West Fourth Street Architecture of Winston-Salem, contracted by Pilot View, created a master plan. Two public meetings were held for residents to view the plans.
Environmental specialists identified wetlands above the dam on the Davie County side.
Plans for a boardwalk assessment was completed and civil engineers confirmed the old bridge pilings were more than safe for supporting a bridge, which would connect both sides of the park.
Since 2003, the park is managed by a non-profit, private RiverPark Incorporation.
Handrails have been installed, many volunteers, including the Davie County War Eagle football team members, have cleared areas of old logs and brush, a utility vehicle was purchased and a road gate was installed.
John Peeler's assistance on knowing which trees to cut and those that needed to be left standing was valuable.
A workshop retreat is in the planning to launch Phase 2.
A river outfitter and sandwich shop, restrooms, picnic shelter, canoe portage, park offices, bridge over the river, enhancement of the Junction Road river access area and a riverboat are some of the plans on the table.
Annual events are anticipated each year. Every third Saturday in October marks the date for the annual RiverPark fish fry. Hundreds turn out for the best crunchy golden brown moist catfish you have ever eaten. Many fish fry events have done so well, necessary quick trips to buy more fish have occurred.
The first fish fry was held on the bank of the river beside the mill across from the lower parking lot. Ricky "Doober" Glass headed the event. Ron Bivins, current RiverPark board member, recalls that first event. Bivins had never done anything like that before and about 200 people were standing in line for a hot serving of catfish. Pete Clodfelter and Bob Brogdon rounded up the four-man cooking team. They had only had three small fryers on tripods with propane tanks. They cooked 180 pounds of fish. The temperature would drop when the fish went in the hot oil and constant adjustments on the propane tanks were a headache. "Some fish were burned and others were probably not cooked enough," Bivins recalls.
He was so glad when the last person got served. Even though they were somewhat unorganized, everyone raved about how delicious the fish was.
The next year was made easier by borrowing Ronnie Shoaf's cooker and Ron Webb came on board. That's when the famous three Rons got started. At the fries, on average, they cook about 380 pounds of fish.
Thanks to Clay West opening up his shop, Walter Ferrell and Bivins custom built a new three-deep fryer.
In July, a duck race includes sandy beach fun by the river, a tube race beginning up stream at the Junction, food, music and lots of fellowship.
Discovering Our Heritage sponsored by the CHA for Cooleemee Elementary School is held every school year. The students learn about three economies down at the river.
In the summer, a River of Dreams River Camp entails a week-long of learning and fun, with a sleep over Friday night and graduation on Saturday morning.
"We believe that everything in life is a circle and that the circle is very sacred. We're blessing this land. We're blessing you. You will never be the same, in a very good way," said the Native American, Butterfly, at the RiverPark dedication.
Sales has been quoted several times repeating the thing: "We know that when we have good people working on a good project, there will be success."
All the hard work has brought us to where we are today is a gift to the natives, to all the land and to all of the people who can say, "Cooleemee's my home."