The birth of Gorges State Park

North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt signing the "Gorges Bill" on July 8, 1997. The second (fully visible) person from the left is R. Michael Leonard, recognized from another Morton image in the online collection and confirmed by a quote in the Asheville Times. At the time Leonard was an attorney with the firm Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge, and Rice. The others in the photograph are unidentified.

North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt signing the “Gorges Bill” on July 8, 1997. The second (fully visible) person from the left is R. Michael Leonard, recognized from another Morton image in the online collection and confirmed by a quote in the Asheville Citizen-Times. At the time Leonard was an attorney with the firm Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge, and Rice. The others in the photograph are unidentified.

This past Saturday, July 8th, marked the twentieth anniversary of North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt signing “An Act to Authorize the Addition to the State Parks System of Certain Lands Located in Transylvania County Adjacent to Jocassee Lake”—or, as Hugh Morton labeled his negatives, the “Gorges Bill.”  The act had been Senate Bill 537, then became Chapter 276 in Session Laws and Resolutions Passed by the 1997 General Assembly . . . [shortened title].  The legislators behind the bill were State Senator Tommy Jenkins, Democrat (possibly the person on the far right in the photograph above) and Representative William Ives, Republican from Transylvania County.

July 8, 1997 was a busy day for Governor Hunt.  Earlier in the day, he attended the memorial service for Charles Kuralt.  Morton’s negatives for both events are on the same roll of film.  Hunt wears the same tie in all of the photographs, and that was the tip off that both events occurred on the same day.  According to Session Laws and Resolutions it became law “upon approval of the Governor at 4:50 p.m. on the 8th day of July, 1997.”

Curiosity and thoroughness sent me back to the collection finding aid to see what else Hugh Morton may have photographed related to the Gorges.  I found another roll of film dated April 1997 with Gov. Hunt, Bill Grigg, and Gorges Park among the names written on the envelope.  Grigg was Chairman of Duke Power Company, which owned the land.  Inside the envelope are nineteen negatives and six prints including the two images below.

Chairman of Duke Power Company, Bill Grigg, and Governor Jim Hunt during a flyover to view the land that would become Gorges State Park, April 1997. (Hugh Morton photograph, cropped by the author.)

Chairman of Duke Power Company, Bill Grigg, and Governor Jim Hunt during a flyover to view the land that would become Gorges State Park, April 1997. (Hugh Morton photograph, cropped by the author.)

An Asheville Citizens-Times news article titled, “Hunt signs deal allowing Jocassee purchase” published on July 9, 1997 that reported the news story included a quote from Hunt saying, “I have flown over it.  This is wonderful property and the state ought to have it.”  The article mentioned that the bill contained no appropriation to acquire the land.  It simply permitted the state parks system to “pursue the purchase.”  The article also stated that “Hunt gave a pep talk to area lawmakers, including Sen. Robert Carpenter, R-Macon, state agency officials and environmentalists assembled for a photo op.”  Hunt “strongly suggested” that the state would “raise the money through a combination of publicly held grants, private sources and maybe a legislative appropriation.”  The article concluded with a statement that R. Michael Leonard of the law firm Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge and Rice (seen in the group portrait above) had received a commitment of $1.25 million from two anonymous private donors.  The state purchased the land and officially dedicated Gorges State Park in 1999.

Hugh Morton's bird's-eye-view of the many waterfalls on the Toxaway River.

Hugh Morton’s bird’s-eye-view of the many waterfalls on the Toxaway River.

 

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