FROM THE ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES
SAPPHIRE — Superintendent Steve Pagano remembers running Gorges State Park out of his little black briefcase.
Shortly after the state park in Transylvania County was created in 1999, he and his tiny staff then upgraded to a small rented office on N.C. 281.
This week, Pagano proudly surveyed the 7,500-acre river-riddled, waterfall-splashed land of ridges and gorges from the palacelike perch of the new visitor center.
More than a decade in the planning and construction, the 7,100-square-foot, $3.6 million center built to green building standards will be formally dedicated to the public at ceremony Friday afternoon by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.
“This is the crown jewel of the state park system,” said Pagano, sweeping his hands across the endless views from the visitor center’s back deck.
“There’s a lot to be proud of here. The funding didn’t come out of the state budget, it came from a trust fund. We’ve had tremendous community support. I don’t think there’s another state park that’s had the support we’ve had.”
As the only superintendent at Gorges State Park since it was established, Pagano is obviously proud of how the park has grown, from wild, mountainous land sold to the state in the late 1990s by Duke Energy, through the creation of a master plan in 2003 and its long, slow growing pains to accommodate the outdoors-seeking public with roads and hiking trails, picnic areas and backcountry campsites.
Along with the visitor center, the $6.4 million project includes two new picnic shelters and a maintenance facility, completing phase one of the master plan, Pagano said, paid for entirely through the state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.
The park staff can now start to focus more on educational programs and creating more trails to see more of the park’s rugged interior and plentiful waterfalls, but just as at other state parks, the experience starts with the visitor center, he said.