04/10/07 — Parks chief has big plans for future of Cliffs of Neuse

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Parks chief has big plans for future of Cliffs of Neuse

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on April 10, 2007 1:45 PM

SEVEN SPRINGS -- Lyndon Sutton remembers those glorious "old days."

He recalls with fondness when all the campsites at Cliffs of the Neuse were filled on weekends. He remembers the campfires, the songs, the camaraderie, the people.

He longs for it to be that way again.

And as new Cliffs superintendent, it's his goal to make that dream a reality.

"Back then when I was growing up, everybody knew everybody," said Sutton, who has worked the past 10 years at Medoc State Park in western North Carolina. "I have a lot of memories from here. It's like I just have to reacquaint myself."

The community around the Cliffs has grown, he said, but the campsites are only about a third to half full on weekends.

The local state park has 35 family campsites with picnic tables, grills, running water and another four primitive sites.

"I'd like to put in some electric sites," Sutton said. "From my experience, a person comes in with an RV and asks if there's electricity. If you say no, they're going to go where they offer that service."

Sutton, who was a park attendant at the Cliffs when he was a teenager, is currently recruiting seasonal workers like lifeguards and park attendants.

The park was packed on weekends back in 1978 when Sutton worked his first summer on break from college. He wants campers back in force during that time, and also would like to see visitors before the traditional opening on Memorial Day and after the traditional closing time of Labor Day.

"You have some good days after September," he said. "I'd like to see those paddle boats in the water in the spring and the concession stand open before Memorial Day. I've got a lot of things floating around up here, but what I plan to do now is observe and listen."

He said he seeks guidance from the seven members on the park's advisory board, and gets other input, too.

"Whatever change I make will be what I feel is best for the park, because it will be here long after we're gone," he said.

He said the advisory board is looking at buying some land adjacent to the park, which is going to allow the arrangement of a new visitor's center with a conference room and meeting room. The road will be realigned so the visitor's center will be on the right side as vehicles enter the park.

"Those are the two biggest things we have on the table right now," he said.

Meanwhile, he will look for ways to bring more people into the park and perhaps implement some of the changes he made at Medoc.

One of the events at Medoc was a Community Family and Fun Day he held every third Saturday in July. He said the festival had free food and rides for the children and was well-attended. He started it in June 1997, and it grew each year until there were 3,000 people coming.

He said if any church would like to book a concert on that day, he would welcome a phone call at 778-6234. He said he might be cutting it too close for this year, but now is the perfect time to start planning for the summer of 2008.

A bike rally is coming to the Cliffs on April 21 as part of Relay for Life.

Sutton said he collects Ford Mustangs and would also like to see a classic car show come to the park.

Back at Medoc, he conducted various events like Earth Day, a 5K Mother's Day Hike and a National Trails Day program. His events calendar went from February to December.

"Night hikes do well," he said. "I would like to have something for Big Sweep in September."

Sutton said he enjoys his work.

"I get to do things you can't put a price tag on, as far as friends and relationships," he said. "After 26 years, I can say I love my job. You come to work, and you can do something different every day."