A Universally Accessible Pier is Latest Feature at Westwood Park, NC

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A Universally Accessible Pier is Latest Feature at Westwood Park, NCMOUNT AIRY, N.C.  – New pond. New fish. New pier. As part of a multi-phase effort to bring more fishing opportunities to local anglers, the City of Mount Airy, in cooperation with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, recently completed construction of a universally accessible fishing pier on Tumbling Rock Reservoir in Westwood Park.

The 59-foot floating pier is the latest feature at Westwood Park, which is located at 1250 Galax Trail. It has a T-shape section at the end that is 48 feet long and 11 feet wide, easily accommodating several wheelchair-bound anglers. The pier features seven low handrails to make it easier for anglers in wheelchairs and children to cast their lines into the 3-acre pond, which was drained in 2005 and re-filled in September 2007.

Commission personnel stocked the pond last year with 1,350 largemouth bass and bluegill. They also stocked an additional 300 redear sunfish fingerlings this fall to create a self-sustaining fishery.

Biologists expect these young fish to grow to catchable size in two to three years. Anglers, however, will be able to fish for catchable-size channel catfish next summer when the Commission begins stocking catfish through its Community Fishing Program (CFP). The program will begin in July 2009, and 900 catfish will be stocked monthly through October. After 2009, monthly stockings will occur from May through October.

According to Kin Hodges, fisheries biologist with the Commission, the decision to delay catfish stocking until next summer will maximize the survival of the fingerlings.

“The sunfish and largemouth bass were stocked at 2 to 3 inches long. If we had stocked the channel catfish this year, they could have ended up eating a lot of the fingerlings,” Hodges said. “By waiting until 2009 to stock the catfish, most of the bass and sunfish fingerlings should be large enough to avoid being eaten by the catfish.”

Because the reservoir was refilled recently, the fingerlings have plenty of places to hide from predators.

“There are currently lots of bushes growing in the shallow areas of the pond, which took root while the pond was drawn down for renovations,” Hodges said. “Now that the pond has been refilled, they make great shallow-water fish habitat.”

Additionally, creek channels winding through the bottom of the pond provide deep-water sanctuaries for fish.

“Fish like these types of places because they like to hang out in deep water, while still being close to shallow water,” Hodges added.

To facilitate access to the pond, public services and park personnel constructed a universally accessible paved trail connecting the main parking area to the pond. The trail encircles the pond, providing excellent access for bank anglers.

“The trail leading to the pond is closed to vehicles so anglers have to walk about 1/5 of a mile to the pond from the parking area,” said Jeff Boyles, Mt. Airy director of public services. “However, anglers with disabilities will be allowed to drive to the pond, and there are several parking spaces designated as universally accessible right beside the pond.”

The fish stockings, fishing pier and plans to install a floating fish feeder in 2009 are part of a fisheries management plan jointly developed by Hodges and Mt. Airy officials through the Commission’s Community Fishing Program.

The Community Fishing Program is a cooperative venture between the Commission and local governments to provide more fishing opportunities in city and county parks, particularly for the young, elderly and physically challenged. Program expenses are cost-shared with local cooperators, with the Commission providing 75 percent of the operating funds through the Sport Fish Restoration Fund and local cooperators paying the remaining 25 percent.

In addition to partnering with the Wildlife Commission, the City of Mount Airy secured funding for Westwood Park from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the Resource Institute, according to Catrina Alexander, Mt. Airy director of parks and recreation.

“Westwood Park is a great example of local government developing partnerships to stretch its budget and to maximize recreational opportunities for the community,” Alexander said. “Families visiting Westwood Park can have fun on our two ball fields, a picnic shelter, playground area, par fitness golf, a 9-hole Frisbee golf course, 6 miles of mountain bike trails, nearly 1 ½ miles of gravel and paved trails, and of course, the new fishing pier on Tumbling Rock Reservoir.”

For more information about Westwood Park, call the Mt. Airy Parks and Recreation Department at 336-786-8313, or visit www.mountairy.org.

For more information about the Wildlife Commission’s Community Fishing Program or fishing in the state’s public, inland waters, click here, or call the Division of Inland Fisheries, (919) 707-0220.