Nearly a year after being closed “forever” over safety concerns, the observation area at the famed Mount Airy granite quarry has been reopened to visitors.
“We listened to the voice of the public,” said Carlos Goad, vice president of human resources at North Carolina Granite Corp., home to the world’s-largest open-faced granite quarry — a frequent stop for tourists.
Goad added Tuesday that the desires of the community, coupled with safety improvements at the site just east of Mount Airy off N.C. 103, made the reopening possible. The observation area began hosting visitors again Monday.
The closure of the site last summer resulted from issues involving a 6-foot-high fence separating the observation site from the quarry area.
People were going around the fence and putting themselves between it and a steep drop-off, which posed a violation of federal and state safety regulations — not to mention liability issues for the company. “It put us in a very awkward situation,” Goad said of visitors venturing into what he termed “an extremely unauthorized area.”
“On four different occasions we saw that happening and had to run out and get them back.”
However, last summer’s closing decision proved extremely unpopular with the public, affecting tour bus traffic and the Squad Car Tours’ route covering local attractions.
“Everywhere in Mount Airy our name became mud,” Goad acknowledged.
The granite company has implemented what it thinks is the solution to the safety problem, which has again made the observation area accessible to the public.
“We have now put up an eight-foot fence with barbed wire around the top of it,” Goad explained. “We listened to the voice of the public who were concerned and wanted a place (to view the quarry). So we gave in and think we made it much safer.” Signs are placed along the length of the sparkling new fence warning visitors not to go around, through or over that barrier.
The observation area will be open seven days a week year-round from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., unless inclement weather or other conditions beyond the granite company’s control force a temporary closure.
“North Carolina Granite wants all visitors to have a safe and enjoyable visit to our facility, but non-compliance with required regulations or policy could affect future access,” Goad said in a statement issued Monday.
Replicas of Mayberry sheriff’s cars operated by Squad Car Tours were seen going in and out of the observation area Tuesday afternoon.
“It think it’s great,” said Roger Sickmiller, the driver of one of the cars loaded with tourists who seemed to appreciate the spectacle of the granite quarry from a now-safer vantage point.
“It really caused a big controversy when they closed it,” Sickmiller said.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.