In 2005, the N.C. General Assembly authorized a new state park in the scenic Hickory Nut Gorge area of western Rutherford and the surrounding counties of Polk, Henderson and Buncombe. The unit was designated as Chimney Rock State Park shortly after the state had acquired Chimney Rock Park, a private nature park surrounding the striking 315-foot spire on the gorges southern side. The Chimney Rock area of the state park is operated by a private contractor and is open throughout the year. Entry fees offset the cost of operating this popular tourist destination. Currently, Chimney Rock is the only public access within the greater Chimney Rock State Park. However, the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation will eventually develop other areas of the state park with more traditional park facilities and recreation. The greater Chimney Rock State Park currently encompasses roughly 4,000 acres on both north and south sides of the gorge and expansion efforts continue to bring more of the gorges rich natural resources into conservation. Ultimately, a master plan for the entire park will be developed to fully protect the natural heritage and offer outdoor recreation options. Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park has been a tourist destination in western North Carolina since a simple stairway was built to the rocks summit in 1885. In 1902, Lucius B. Morse of Missouri bought the site. The Morse family developed park facilities including a tunnel and elevator to the rock summit, nature center and a network of hiking trails to geologic points of interest including the 404-foot-tall Hickory Nut Falls. Please click here to link to the site of Chimney Rock(www.chimneyrockpark.com)to plan your exploration of one of North Carolinas most unusual natural wonders. A park master planning public information session will be held on May 26 from 10am to 7pm. The drop-in planning session will involve a workstation format allowing people to attend at any time during the day and spend as much time as necessary to review and discuss design alternatives. Proposed design alternatives for the state park will be presented, and the public will be able to ask questions and offer comments to officials of the state parks system and Greenways Inc., a Durham-based environmental planning and landscape architecture firm responsible for completing the plan. Creating a world class state park at Chimney Rock has been and continues to be a partnership effort between the state parks system and the community, said Lewis Ledford, director of the state Division of Parks and Recreation. Chimney Rock State Park has benefited from strong support in the community, and its important that citizens continue to be involved in the process. A state parks master plan is essentially a blueprint for long-term development of facilities and recreation opportunities and a guide for protection of natural resources. It is meant to be an organic document, evolving as the park grows and as knowledge is gained about a parks natural resources and public use. Proposed designs also will be available beginning May 26 at www.greenways.com/chimneyrock. Written comments may be submitted through June 23 by using an online comment sheet or by mail to: General Management Plan Coordinator, N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, 1615 MSC, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1615.