Umstead State Park | Photo courtesy of RDU Forest

Crisis Averted

In Buzz, February 2020 by Jane PorterLeave a Comment

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RDU Airport Authority halts unpopular plans to build a fence near Umstead State Park.

Hikers, bikers and and other Umstead users had cause to celebrate last month: the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority hit pause on plans to build an 18 mile-long fence around the perimeter of land, known as the 286 tract, that the airport leases bordering the state park. 

RDUAA, an eight-member board that governs development, operations and maintenance of RDU International Airport said it needed the fence to control trespassing on the 286 land’s unauthorized mountain bike trails. The 8-foot tall chain-link fence would have cost $2.4 million to build and would have bisected Umstead Park’s popular Reedy Creek Multi-use trail in two places. 

In a two-page letter from the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to Michael Landguth, RDU’s president and CEO, the office that oversees state parks outlined several reasons as to why it felt the fence was a bad idea. 

Thousands of hikers, cyclists and equestrians use the Reedy Creek trail each year, the letter states, and the fence would degrade the visitor experience; the proposed fence would have crossed streams and damaged stream banks and wetlands, impacting water quality; it would block movement of wildlife, trapping animals between airport fences, and it could jeopardize the park’s status on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Instead, the letter proposes enhancing law enforcement on the property and the Department says it is “interested in working with RDU and our respective state and federal partners to pursue a purchase of the 286 property affected by mountain biking and add it to the park.” 

Otherwise, the Department proposes a lease agreement between the airport and Wake County by which the county parks and state parks offices would collaboratively manage and enforce the trails on the property. Local groups, including Triangle Off Road Cyclists (TORC) and the Umstead Coalition, have lobbied for this proposal and for building a trail center on the property they say will preclude the airport’s need for a fence. 

“Our goal is to find a compromise that allows the airport to secure its property while minimizing the impacts to Umstead State Park and their concerns,” said Crystal Feldman, a communications officer for RDUAA, in a statement.

But RDUAA says it still intends to pursue its Vision 2040 master plan which includes a proposed rock quarry on another 105 acres of land it leases from Wake and Durham Counties and the Cities of Raleigh and Durham known as the Odd Fellows tract. The quarry has been a contentious proposal from the outset, with opponents arguing it will destroy forested land, provide inadequate buffers and watershed protections and, with a payout of $20 to $25 million to the airport over 25 to 35 years, is just a bad deal: The airport needs some $4 billion over the next two decades to modernize and expand. It faces a $1 to $2 billion shortfall regardless of whether the quarry moves forward or not. 

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