New entry gets a no at Umstead

Staff WriterNovember 4, 2009 

— Runners and cyclists looking for easier access to North Carolina's busiest urban park lost ground Tuesday, when state officials balked at opening a third car entrance to Umstead State Park.

The state parks division said last year it might allow Umstead patrons to start driving into the park through what now is a locked maintenance gate on Graylyn Drive - a dead-end road on the north side of the park.

But Lewis Ledford, the state parks director, said Tuesday that the Graylyn gate will stay closed. He cited worries about security, staffing costs and environmental issues.

"We're concerned about not putting more of a development footprint into that park than is truly necessary," said Charlie Peek, a spokesman for Ledford.

Instead, the parks division will improve a bumpy gravel road inside the park that provides access from the Glenwood Avenue entrance to the popular Sycamore bike and bridle trailhead near Graylyn. The park road will be paved when funds are available, Peek said, though he did not have a timetable. The trailhead parking lot also will be expanded.

Cyclist Dave Barbour, 43, of Raleigh, was sorry to hear that Ledford had decided against opening the gate at Graylyn. Barbour used Graylyn as a place to park his car until the state banned parking and paved the road last year.

"It's still by far my preferred way of entering the park," Barbour said. "Improving the roads inside the park isn't a big deal to me. If they're not going to open up the Graylyn entrance, I'd rather they not do anything at all."

A maintenance gate offReedy Creek Road on the east side of Umstead is another widely used entry point for unofficial, quick access to some of the park's most popular running and biking trails.

The Raleigh City Council had been expected to vote Tuesday on a proposal to restrict parking in a residential neighborhood nearby, but the council deferred its decision.

Homeowners in Trenton Woods, a new subdivision near the Reedy Creek gate, have been unhappy about Umstead patrons who park near their houses. They petitioned the council for a total on-street parking ban. Residents of other neighborhoods near Umstead were waiting to see what kind of precedent the council would establish.

The council's Public Works Committee last week recommended "No Parking" signs only on one side of the street in Trenton Woods, and not on cul-de-sacs. But council members agreed Tuesday to postpone action until the new council, to be established by the results of the municipal election Tuesday, takes office.

"There is no clear compromise" on the Trenton Woods parking dispute, said council member Russ Stephenson, who leads the Public Works Committee.

The council approved a separate proposal to add a two-foot-wide paved shoulder for 630 feet along Trenton Road near the Trenton Woods neighborhood and the Reedy Creek Road gate. The wider pavement was proposed to make the road safer for pedestrians, cyclists and residents pushing baby strollers.

Cars and parking remain an issue for Umstead users and residents near the two maintenance gates regarded as neighborhood entrances to Umstead. A park advocate said she agreed with the state's decision on Graylyn Drive.

"We're not opposed to some controlled parking on Graylyn, but we're not in favor of opening the gate to traffic," said Jean Spooner, chairman of the Umstead Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group.

She said the state and thecity should improve access to Umstead by making Ebenezer Church Road safer for park users on foot and on bicycles.

David Messerly lives in The Lakes, another subdivision near the Reedy Creek Road entrance. Like residents of Trenton Woods, his neighbors are unhappy when their streets are filled with cars belonging to Umstead patrons.

"Unfortunately we are becoming a de facto parking lot, because the city and state can't get their act together and find a solution," Messerly said. "I know it's not an easy decision, but it should be incumbent on them to find a safe parking solution."

Staff writer Sarah Ovaska contributed to this article.

bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4527

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