Big Rock gets big help

Preserving Charlotte’s history is a community effort.

McAlpine Elementary teacher Justin Ashley (left) watches over his students who helped paint over graffiti at the Big Rock Nature Preserve. The preserve is near south Charlotte’s Thornhill.

McAlpine Elementary teacher Justin Ashley (left) watches over his students who helped paint over graffiti at the Big Rock Nature Preserve. The preserve is near south Charlotte’s Thornhill.

That’s the belief of Justin Ashley, a fourth-grade history teacher at McAlpine Elementary School who recently heard about vandalism of the Big Rock Rock Shelter tucked away inside south Charlotte’s Thornhill subdivision. The giant granite boulder, which is the center-piece of Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation’s 22-acre Big Rock Nature Preserve, is the oldest official historic landmark in south Charlotte, and studies show the area once was inhabited by American Indians from as early as 7,000 years ago.

Tucked away and hidden, the preserve may not see high-volume traffic, but every once in awhile does experience some vandalism in the way of spray-painted graffiti, Mike Monroe with Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation said.

“It’s not very frequent,” Monroe said. “The graffiti type is much softer and different than the inner-city parks.”

But that doesn’t mean it still isn’t a concern. Ashley is always looking for ways to help his McAlpine fourth-graders experience North Carolina history – not just read it out of a textbook, he said. So he connected with Monroe and rallied his students to help. On Thursday, April 17, about 15 to 20 fourth-graders plus some parents, siblings and friends made their way out to the preserve to lend a helping hand.

Under the direction of Monroe, the students painted the rocks granite gray. Rangers already had covered graffiti with black paint, Monroe said, but the gray paint gives the rocks a more natural look.

“To me, these are projects that stick. Now from doing this, they’ll never forget about this place,” Ashley said. “This is what our history is all about. It’s alive and sometimes you got to get out of the classroom and experience it.”

Many students and families, as well as Ashley, had never visited or heard of the Big Rock Rock Shelter before the work day, and Ashley was impressed to see so many students willing to give a helping hand even while on spring break.

Monroe said Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation appreciates the students’ help and hopes by helping to clean up the landmark, the kids will encourage keeping it clean as they get older. Teenagers are typically at fault for vandalizing the county’s parks, he added.

“If they take care of it now, hopefully when they get older they’ll be more invested in helping preserve it,” Monroe said. “This is just great that they are helping.”

 

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