In a time where differences of opinion, political persuasion, ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, and even diet choices seem to be sources of contention on social media and in everyday conversation, a group in Lake Wylie has come together with the goal of building a place where all differences can be put aside; a place where people can take the time to walk, to meditate, to reflect and ponder.
A place where people can breathe deeply, enjoy nature, and think. A place where people can play and get a little exercise. A place where people can pray, feel gratitude, maybe shed a few tears and heal.
It all started when Lorre Coone, a retired middle school guidance counselor, visited the Common Ground campus in Stanley, N.C., with some friends. It was named Common Ground because of the phrase’s dictionary definition: a basis of mutual interest or agreement.
The 90-acre park includes an outdoor worship cathedral, miles of walking trails, a prayer chapel, playground and recreational facilities. It was developed through a partnership between a local Methodist church and the community in Stanley.
Lorre was mesmerized by the peace and tranquility of the place and invited her husband David to visit again with her. She also invited Sam McGregor, pastor of the church they’d been attending for about a month.
“I thought Sam would be interested to see the place, and see how that church (in Stanley) was reaching out to the community,” Lorre said.
The three rode over to Stanley and started looking around. “While we were out there, we saw a man at one of the picnic tables,” Lorre recalled. “As it turned out, he was the pastor of the Methodist Church that started Common Grounds. Pastor Noel spent about forty five minutes with us, telling us about the history of the place.”
David said, “The church had inherited over 90 acres of land and had originally planned to build a new church there. But with the economy and a church population that was declining in number, that plan was becoming less feasible. So they decided to take the land and create a family life center along with an area where people could come and enjoy activities, basketball, track and trails. It really took off and then the church started having Sunday services outside, and the congregation really started to grow.”
The Coones and Pastor Sam headed back to Lake Wylie. “We stopped for lunch in Belmont, and started talking about the possibility of doing something similar in the Allison Creek community,” said David. “And before I knew what was happening, I found myself in charge of heading up the project,” he laughed.
Allison Creek Presbyterian Church, founded in 1854, owns over 20 acres of land with an amazing history. On the property is a Clay Hill Graveyard, dating to times before the Civil War. Within the past ten years, the graveyard has been restored, adding markers to graves and delving into the history of the few marked spots. The restoration led to partnerships with three area churches, Liberty Hill AME Zion, New Home AME Zion and Union Baptist, all of whom could trace ancestors buried there. In addition, the church began a ministry with a congregation in the country of Liberia, all of whom could trace ancestors buried in the cemetery.
Pastor Sam said, “When we first talked about developing a Common Ground facility at Allison Creek, I felt like it would be another way to tell the stories of these forgotten people in Clay Hill.”
Common Ground at Allison Creek is turning out to do just that, plus much, much more.
In the past two years since the idea was conceived, the land has been developed to incorporate a recreation field, a walking track, a prayer chapel and a mile-and-a-half wooded trail that winds through the Clay Hill Graveyard and surrounding forest. The trails include themed stations along the way that invite visitors to reflect, remember, repent and renew.
“We started with the walking track, and then things just grew,” explained David Coone. “It has been amazing the way things have come together. After we presented the idea to the church, people started volunteering their time and resources. Pete Lynn and Foster Jackson brought tractors out. Penland Tree Farm donated and planted trees to landscape the track. Groups of people came out to spread gravel and mulch.”
“A lot of people came from the Allison Creek community — I’d say about 80 percent of the workers were people who are not even a part of the church,” David Coone said.
The walking track was named for and dedicated to the memory of Kathy Kitts, a member of the community and the church who had recently passed away. Kitts was very active in projects such as Adopt-a-Highway, various mission work at the church and helping neighbors in need on the Allison Creek Peninsula. The track is a quarter mile around the recreation field, designed so people can use it for exercise or a place to walk their dogs.
Next to the track are picnic tables and the Tom and Nell Jackson Prayer Chapel. Inside the prayer chapel are a couple of chairs, a desk, a small library and a journal where visitors record their thoughts and prayer requests.
“The response to the prayer chapel has been unbelievable,” said Lorre Coone. “You wouldn’t believe some of the things that people write in there. People will pour out their hearts. Every week in church, we read the prayer requests aloud in church and members of the congregation will pray for those people.”
Across the street from the recreation field is the trailhead for the wooded trail. Walking sticks hang on a post with an invitation for hikers to use. Lorre Coone and a group of women came up with ideas for stations along the trail.
“We’d come up with an idea, then David and the men would build it. Right now they’re starting to work on building a waterfall! Some of the ideas we borrowed from Common Ground in Stanley,” she said. “They have been so helpful, giving us advice and recommendations. The whole thing is about having a place where everyone is welcome, no matter what they believe. Not everyone is comfortable in a church. Common Ground is about creating a place without walls, where people can enjoy nature and find peace.”
Want to visit? Common Ground is located on the corner of Hands Mill Highway and Allison Creek Road, York, SC. Want to help? Work groups meet every Tuesday morning to continue work on the trails and property.