By Lauren Ohnesorge Senior Staff Writer, Triangle Business Journal
Days after a county proposal to lease land from Raleigh-Durham International Airport went public, members of the trail community is cautiously warming up to the idea.
At issue is a 150-acre tract known as “286,” long used by cyclists despite the “no trespassing” signs RDU has been posting. As a solution to trespassing, RDU has posed installing a perimeter fence on its land – including tract 286. But the backlash to that plan from cyclists, hikers and environmentalists has been heavy.
During a meeting of Wake County’s growth and sustainability commission on Monday, Commissioner Sig Hutchinson tried to sell the lease idea as a compromise that could protect the tract from the fencing plan.
David Anderson, a spokesman for Triangle Off-Road Cyclists, says the county’s moves to pursue sanctioned trails are “welcome.”
“That’s a much needed option that’s in line with the surrounding parks there,” he says, calling it a “much more sensible solution than the damage that would be caused by a fence and the cost associated from constant patrolling by airport staff.”
Longtime area cyclist Todd Hancock is optimistic about the plan, too.
“The 286 lease is the most viable option,” he says. “Maybe it’s the puzzle piece to start. I think if you get one thing going, I think there’s a better chance of getting other things going in the future, maybe with N.C. Parks or retaining some or all of Lake Crabtree in future decades. Something has to happen to be a catalyst for good on those trails,” Hancock says.
“It to me sounds brilliant and a no brainer,” adds Henry Copeland, a recreational runner and the founder of virtual race farm firm Racery. “Anything that preserves people’s access to recreational land I think is a good move.”
As for the possible lease of the tract to create legal cycling trails, it’s early – and a lot could happen between now and a final decision. As posed by Hutchinson, the tract would become part of Lake Crabtree County Park, which is also leased from the airport.
According to RDU, the Lake Crabtree lease expires in 2025. “We have several years before we begin discussions about that property,” a spokesperson said Wednesday.
But its future is uncertain, as RDU’s Vision2040 master plan only identifies 33 acres of that park for future recreational use. According to RDU, the remaining 148 acres could instead someday house both commercial development and recreational trails “all of which is required to be leased at the fair market value by the FAA.”
As for 286’s lease, to be approved, the proposal would still have to go before both the full Wake County Commission and the RDU Airport Authority Board. For its part, RDU has said it’s interested in continuing lease discussions about the land.
Some of Hutchinson’s colleagues on the commission, however, say they still need more information before moving forward.
“I requested a lot of information from staff and will need this information before making a decision,” Vickie Adamson, vice chair of the county commission, said in an email, noting that the Monday meeting lacked details about the plan.
County Commissioner Matt Calabria echoed her comments Wednesday, saying more due diligence is required before he formulates an opinion. “Given the significance of this issue, how long this set of issues has existed and the importance to our community, we owe it to ourselves not to be just barking up one tree but barking up every tree,” says Calabria.
Trail enthusiasts do say – both on social media and in interviews and emails – that the tract isn’t the only point of contention with RDU.