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North Carolina legislators may authorize vintage car racing in state parks

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The website for Pilot Mountain State Park in Pinnacle, North Carolina describes a wild, picturesque National Natural Landmark. The weathered dome atop the mountain's peak, often featured in photographs throughout the state, represents a place where one can enjoy typical outdoor recreation activities like fishing and hiking.

The North Carolina General Assembly may add another activity to Pilot Mountain's roster: car racing.

Legislation currently in the Senate clerk's office - S 38, "Amend Environmental Laws 2014" - would allow people to petition the state secretaries of Environment and Natural Resources or Agriculture and Consumer Services for waivers to the speed limits in state parks or forests, respectively. The law also allows the secretaries to impose conditions on the waiver, requires the petitioners to obtain insurance of up to $3,000,000 and prevents them from holding the departments liable for resulting problems.

The provisions, included in a longer "omnibus" bill addressing wetlands, plant takings, fertilizers, energy audits, venomous snakes and other issues, resulted from a failed effort by Shelton Vineyards co-owner Ed Shelton to apply for a convention of the Triumph Vintage Register in Surry County. The permit request for a "hill climb" up Pilot Mountain required the mountain's closure and was denied.

Shelton, one of the fundraisers for the park's purchase, then apparently pushed for the addition of the speed limit language in S 38, although, according to Shelton, "There were no political favors. This is more of a community event."

Editorials published by the Winston-Salem Journal and Charlotte Observer both denounced the legislation on Tuesday. The Observer notes that a rural road elsewhere in the county can already be used.

North Carolina Sierra Club State Director Molly Diggins said a permit granted under the bill, "Shuts the public out of their own park. And it would appear to shut them out of the process."

Convention coordinator Steve Ward disagreed, saying, "We're doing it on a weekday, not a weekend, and it's not in the summertime so we didn't think it would impact the public as much."

Harry Wilson, a cyclist who organized annual fundraising rides covering three mountains including Pilot, eventually stopped scheduling events partly because of the inability to restrict traffic. However, his comments regarding S 38 were that, "This is politics and money over rules and regulations."

An assistant environmental secretary countered criticism of the speed limit measure, saying, "We're going to expose some well-heeled people to a beautiful part of North Carolina."

Perhaps in validation of this statement, an employee of Shelton Vineyards recently placed a permit application with a $1,000 check.

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