Orange County residents discuss Mountains-to-Sea Trail plans

Mountains-to-Sea Trail link at issue

tgrubb@newsobserver.comAugust 14, 2012 

Possible route for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail through Orange County.

  • More Information Orange County will post a trail survey online in late August. If you have questions or comments about the trail, contact Land Conservation Manager Rich Shaw at 919-245-2514 or rshaw@co.orange.nc.us. To learn more about the state’s Mountain-to-Sea Trail or how you can help, visit the Friends of the Mountain-to-Sea Trail website at www.ncmst.org.

— A 100-foot-wide swath of land winding across western and central Orange County one day could link to a statewide Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

The proposed trail aroused mixed feelings Monday when it was publicly introduced in an informal session at Durham Tech’s Orange County campus. Roughly 100 people crowded a classroom to ask questions, offer suggestions and browse tables of maps, photos and information.

“If there are consistent issues – whether in Orange County or the entire state – we want to find the answers to that,” said Jan Trask, an N.C. State Parks environmental specialist.

About 530 of the state’s 1,000 trail miles are complete, including more than 80 miles in Alamance, Durham and Wake counties. The trail will connect 37 counties from Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks.

In Orange County, it would start at the Haw River near Alamance County and follow Cane Creek north to Hillsborough, before heading west along the Eno River to Durham. Additional spurs could link the trail to Carrboro and Chapel Hill greenways.

Town officials have reviewed the concept plan, and the Orange County commissioners endorsed it in 2010. The county and the Orange Water and Sewer Authority are mapping a path around Cane Creek Reservoir in the southwest; public and preservation lands comprise most of the northeastern section. Landowners will be asked to sell or donate easements linking them.

Donations, local money, and state and federal grants will pay to build and maintain the trail, officials said. The county has roughly $1 million in its capital improvements program and plans to use money from a 2001 parks and recreation bond to buy land.

Rumors about the trail have circulated among residents for several months after some reported orange flags near their property.

Several said they won’t sell their land. They worried about losing hunting, water and private property rights, as well as having more cars and people on rural roads and the potential for more crime. They wondered who would be liable for accidents.

According to state law, recreation easements limit liability, except when a landowner’s wanton or willful actions injure someone.

Bingham Township resident Ann Charles said she doesn’t want the risks or the people. The trail should be built closer to those who will use it, she said.

“An attractive nuisance – that’s what this trail is,” Charles said.

Easement sales are voluntary, Orange County Lands Preservation Manager Rich Shaw said. OWASA officials planted the flags to mark reservoir boundaries during mapping, he said.

Although Alamance, Orange and Durham counties started planning in 2005, the trail is at least five to 10 years away, Shaw said. An alternate plan avoids buying most easements by following local roads.

Chapel Hill resident Audrey Booth called the trail a “wonderful” way to build on the work of people such as Allen de Hart, a Southern trail guide author and founder of the nonprofit Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

Booth, who worked on the Johnston Mill Nature Preserve near Chapel Hill, said new trails always raise concerns about property rights, liability and crime.

“I’ve seen other places being developed where that was a concern,” she said. “We probably have more to worry about in Chapel Hill or Saxapahaw.”

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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