EDEN — The North Carolina Wildlife Commission heard public input Wednesday about the future use and management of the 1,768-acre Dan River Game Land, four miles southwest of town.

The comment period and presentation held at the Leaksville Fire Department were an effort by the commission to find out what local citizens want as it begins drafting a management plan.

The initiative, tentatively slated for completion in two years, will help guide management, restoration and research activities of the game land for the next decade.

NCWC officials said their goal is to continue enhancing and conserving wildlife habitats and ecosystems while accommodating different user groups.

The property, known as the Galloway Tract, became fully state-owned in the spring of 2018 after two separate purchases of the acreage from the Piedmont Land Conservancy.

The PLC in 2016 first approached the state about the property and the state ultimately bought 660 acres in 2017 and the rest of the tract in the spring of 2018.

The multi-million dollar purchases were funded by Clean Water Management Trust Fund grants, in conjunction with a legislative appropriation, as well as money from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Pittman-Robertson Act.

The game land features nearly four miles of river frontage and more than 16 miles of posted boundary, with over 8.7 miles of unimproved roads and 6.8 miles of overgrown paths.

The commission already has plans for a canoe and kayak launch to provide a take-out for paddlers coming from other access points upstream and downstream.

The launch, scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2021, will include a gravel access road off the west side of the Woodpecker Road dead-end, as well as a handicapped parking spot and 11 other parking spaces.

While some local hunters expressed interest in waterfowl impoundments, NCWC officials said there are no current plans for them.

Future and current user activity opportunities include hunting, fishing, trapping, paddling, hiking, wildlife observation, photography, research, foraging for individual consumption, geocaching and amateur astronomy.

Horseback riding, mineral extraction, ATV/ORV riding and camping are prohibited.

Several local citizens — hunters and non-hunters alike — attended the presentation to voice concerns and provide suggestions for use.

Topics included future recreational uses beyond traditional hunting, timber management, prescribed burning schedules and concern about the possibility of future limitless permitting.

NCWC officials made it clear that possible camping opportunities on the land are doubtful, but that the commission might consider permitting primitive camping during hunting season. Officials said public input would influence final land use plans.

Rockingham County resident Byron Tabor lives on Woodpecker Road, on property he purchased in 2005 adjacent to the Game Land.

On Wednesday he also addressed several of his security and safety concerns.

The hunting enthusiast and staunch conservative said he and his family have never had many problems with hunters on the property until game land officials took over ownership last year.

Tabor suggested commission officials build buffer zones for surrounding property owners, by using roads to help visiting hunters identify adjoining private residential lands.

He noted several instances in which rabbit hunters had their beagles running near residential properties, along his property and neighboring parcels.

Tabor said a high-powered rifle went off near the mailbox this year, just 50 to 60 yards from where his children were getting into the car.

“These kids shoot a lot,” Tabor said. “They started crying, it scared them so bad.”

Tabor said he supports what the Wildlife Commission is doing and appreciates the potential the game land presents.

But he values the safety of his family more, Tabor said.

“I want to be your best neighbor,” Tabor said during the comment portion of the public meeting. “I want to be the biggest advocate in the county for this game land, but as much as I love hunting, you know what I love more? My little girls, that are sitting right here. I’ve got guys shooting guns at my mailbox and rabbit dogs in my front yard, and all of it could be solved very easily.”

Fellow Rockingham County resident Matthew Beck concurred with Tabor and said buffers provide clear hunting lines that would allow hunters on the property to be better neighbors.

Tabor also shared several security concerns involving drug use and dealing on the game land.

First year hunting totals

The inaugural 2018-19 hunting season was a success for the property officially deemed a game land in July 2018.

The property was set up as a permit only game land with draw permits for deer and turkey and point-of-sale permits for trapping, small game, bird and waterfowl hunting.

In total, 592 customers were served, with 309 permits awarded.

Five trappers purchased permits, while 156 people acquired permits for small game and waterfowl.

During deer season, eight hunters were issued permits for seven-day hunts, and another eight sportsmen were awarded permits for two-day hunts during the black powder and archery deer portion of the season.

Another eight hunters were awarded permits for seven three-day hunts.

In total, 239 people applied for deer hunting permits and 128 permits were issued.

Commission officials said Wednesday that the season garnered a 20 percent harvest rate, with 26 deer — 14 antlered and 12 does — tagged during the 2018 season.

Turkey saw similar harvest numbers, with 20 permits issued for general turkey and youth turkey season.

Over 177 hunters applied for the 16 permits issued to four applicants. Two three-day hunt permits were also issued to two youth turkey hunters — with a grand total of three gobblers harvested.

Commission officials have made some changes for this hunting season.

The property will become a three-day per week game land for general hunting.

Deer and turkey hunting will still be allowed on a permit-only basis, with designated hunting Thursday through Saturday.

Interested in providing input on the future of the Dan River Game Land? Comments may be emailed to NCWC at gamelandplan@ncwildlife.org. Submissions should also include “Dan River” in the subject line.

Or fill out a comment application at www.ncwildlife.org/gamelandcomments.

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Joe Dexter is a staff writer for RockinghamNow. He can be reached at 336-349-4331 ext. 6139 or @JoeDexter_RCN on Twitter.

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