The OWASA board voted last week to add Cane Creek Reservoir lands to a statewide trail but left room to make exceptions and approve the county’s final route.
Chairman John Young said he sees the board’s decision as giving the county a framework for working out the many issues that remain before setting a final route.
“OWASA’s responsibility is to promote reasonable mitigation of this for our neighbors and encourage the county to work with this broader community to find the right balance and the right mitigations,” Young said. “They’re the elected officials. It’s their responsibility to deal with those issues in the broader sense.”
The 8-1 decision Thursday followed three hours of public comment and debate about some of the 46 conditions that the Mountains-to-Sea Trail must meet to cross Orange Water and Sewer Authority land.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail is an effort by the North Carolina State Trails Program to link the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks. The county is trying to site a trail from southern Alamance County to existing segments in Hillsborough and eastern Orange County.
OWASA’s conditions are aimed at protecting high-quality drinking water, meeting existing policies and minimizing the risks of a public trail, the board said. OWASA money will not be spent to build the trail.
The board added a few last-minute changes Thursday, from lifting a prohibition on using foul language to blocking trail construction on OWASA lands until the county secures at least one connecting segment.
They do not support a standalone trail on OWASA lands, members said, but they left for the future a decision about hosting a trailhead or parking.
Apple Mill Road resident Luther Livermon was among roughly 20 speakers supporting an OWASA link. It will be more than a trail through the county, he said.
“You have an opportunity to take a jewel in North Carolina, which is the property around the reservoir, and let that be part of the trail,” he said.
Trail opponents said they still have concerns about the risk of fire, increased crime and the liability for someone who has an accident on the trail.
The county has talked with Forest Service, Orange County Sheriff’s Office and insurance officials, said Dave Stancil, director of the county’s Department of Environment, Parks, Agriculture and Recreation. Only the Orange County Sheriff’s Office had concerns, he said, about where trailheads are located and the potential for car break-ins. They recommended trailheads and access points with good visibility, he said.
Rural residents also noted the natural beauty and the solitude of the area as reasons to oppose an OWASA segment.
“We live in the rural watershed area because we enjoy living in the country without the intrusion of shopping centers, gas stations, pedestrian and auto traffic, and the list goes on and on,” said Thunder Mountain resident Christine Silva.
Mt. Mitchell Road resident Brenda McCall and Bonnie Hauser, with the rural advocacy group Orange County Voice, suggested looking for an alternate route that could take cyclists and hikers past natural, historical and cultural sites.
“We like to call it the Lands Legacy segment of the trail,” Hauser said, referring to the county’s land conservation program. “It would be a truly distinctive segment of the statewide trail network.”
A full report, including OWASA’s conditions and a map of the proposed route can be found online at bit.ly/2bd6349. The agenda item starts on page 18.