Written by Melissa Kolodziej, Director of Community Relations, Raleigh Regional Association of REALTORS®
In late 2019, Raleigh Regional Association of REALTORS® (RRAR) started a new journey in community engagement and relationship building. We recognized that if we truly wanted to be the best advocates for our members and ask the “tough” questions of our elected leaders, we needed to work closer with our community partners to make our region the best place to live, work, and play for our REALTORS® and the clients they serve. That meant becoming active in our local chambers of commerce to further our footprint in economic development, working with our local colleges and universities to gain important data for long-term projects, and figuring out ways to bring innovative and creative ideas to the communities that we serve. So began our work with Harnett County (one of two counties that RRAR represents) to bring a first-of-its-kind destination to a local community.
Much of the credit here goes to the staff members with Harnett County. They learned through internal discussions that local REALTOR® Associations had access to grants to create new public spaces and gathering spots in local municipalities. Soon afterwards, RRAR was connected with the Harnett County Parks and Recreation Department to begin discussing what it would take to bring a Storybook Trail to a county park. We were thrilled at the opportunity to partner with Harnett County because, to this point, we had not gotten a strong footing with this region after they became part of our jurisdiction a few years back. We knew this would potentially open doors for RRAR to build better relationships with local elected officials and would go a long way in gaining the trust of municipal and county staff.
We decided that Cape Fear Shiner County Park, which is now open, would be the best location for the first Harnett County Storybook Trail, and that the project fit perfectly with NAR’s Placemaking Level 2 Grant. There were plans for a paved walking trail that connected to the government complex and local library, and an offshoot that would take visitors to on overlook of the Cape Fear River. A storybook trail would be the perfect addition to the park to encourage citizens and visitors to utilize the park. We also knew this would be a great destination for families with young children to come explore the park, and that the storybook trail would ultimately lead to the utilization of other aspects of the park including several miles of trails and open space.