By Ivey Schofield
The Browns Creek Nature Park and Bike Trail in Bladen County has been contributing to the economic development of Elizabethtown for years. Now it’s partnering with the city to bring visitors to a local festival this weekend.
Home to more than a dozen miles of mountain biking and hiking trails, the park will host a mountain bike race and social ride to the annual Pork and Beats Festival in Bladen County on Friday.
The park, owned by Elizabethtown, has been operated by Cape Fear SORBA (Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association) since 2014. It offers a bike trail with obstacles and climbs, a walking trial and a camping site – all for free.
“Small towns like Elizabethtown tend to get overlooked,” said Dave Ellegood, president of Cape Fear SORBA. “It’s just another piece of that recreation puzzle.”
Outdoor recreation is an “economic powerhouse,” the federal government says, generating $646 billion each year in consumer spending and supports 6.1 million jobs across the United States.
Eddie Madden, former town manager of Elizabethtown and current county manager of Columbus County, said recreation is key to economic development in the region.
He credits the park’s visitors with contributing to the growth of Elizabethtown.
“They’re staying in the area,” he said of park visitors. “They’re shopping downtown. They’re going to the restaurants.”
Madden said he is trying to recreate the same effect in Columbus County’s Lake Waccamaw. The town received $2.5 million in state funding last year for a bike trail. But now, due to inflation, the project is estimated to cost $4.2 million – which has stalled construction.
“I think [the Elizabethtown park] made a transformation in the downtown business environment,” Madden said. “It has the potential to do the same in Lake Waccamaw.”
Thousands of people visit the Browns Creek park each year, Ellegood estimated. Mountain bike race groups travel from Fayetteville, Raleigh and Charlotte.
Each year, the park also hosts a race for the National Interscholastic Cycling League. About 650 children participate – and their parents come to watch and stay in the area for the weekend.
“They literally take up all the [hotel] rooms around us,” said Terri Dennison, director of the Elizabethtown-White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. “And after the bike ride, they’re coming downtown.”
Dennison said she wanted to partner with the Browns Creek park this weekend to entice more people to visit the Porks and Beats Festival, which is estimated to bring the town $18,000 in revenue.
“It’s just a great fit,” Dennison said.
On Friday, the park will gather several bikers for a “social ride” to travel from the trails to downtown for the barbecue competition. On Saturday, it will host several mountain bike races.
Camping is free all weekend, Ellegood said, and people are welcome to watch the races.
“We just wanted to have this as a wide open, ‘Hey, come have fun with us this weekend,’” Ellegood said. “Then go to town and spend some money.”
On Friday night, there will be live music and tents set up with grills and different meat displays for people to learn to cook. On Saturday, there will also be craft vendors and information booths, along with a concert from the local high school band.
“There’s something to do for everyone,” Dennison said. “We’re definitely excited.”