A unique, 85-acre nature refuge and recreational space near Wendell is primed to get bigger after action taken by county leaders on Monday, Oct. 3.
The Wake Board of Commissioners approved spending $1.65 million to purchase 70 adjoining acres along the western side of the Robertson Millpond Preserve, located along Buffalo Creek.
Beyond giving the preserve room to grow if that decision is made in future years, the new land also gives the county a stronghold on water quality protection.
“Now, we have land on both sides of Buffalo Creek, which is ideal for protecting water quality, and it does give us the option in the future to expand the nature preserve,” said Matt Roylance, deputy director of Wake County Parks, Recreation and Open Space.
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One of a kind
The preserve was purchased in 2013 and was the first of three Wendell-area Wake County open space properties to open for public use, in 2015. It is mostly water – the product of Buffalo Creek being dammed in the 1820s to power a gristmill – catering now to fishing and non-motorized boating.
It is also thought the be the only blackwater cypress swamp in the Piedmont region, and features the county’s only known population of bald cypress trees.
The 70 adjacent acres are being purchased with an open space bond voters approved in 2007. The land is being purchased from the Gehrke family, which also sold the county the millpond and surrounding property that is now the entrance to the preserve off Robertson Pond Road.
The land consists of two parcels: a 60-acre tract that is being leased for farming and 10 acres where the family’s home and other buildings are located.
The county plans to continue leasing the larger parcel to the current farmer of that land, until it makes plans to utilize the land for a public or recreational use as part of the existing preserve.
The purchase agreement also allows the Gehrke family to continue to occupy the 10-acre parcel for up to one year in a lease agreement with the county.
Plans for the land
Some of the farming outbuildings can be repurposed for Robertson Millpond Preserve, but the residence cannot, Roylance said, since it would require extensive upgrades to meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. For that reason, county staff wants to sell the residence with a provision that the structure be moved off the site, or use it for an affordable housing program at another location.
“We’d like to keep the land intact,” Roylance said. “As opposed to carving out a little piece of land and keeping the house there, we’d like to find a use for a house where someone would like to move it off-site and there would be some productive use for the house once moved.”
Wake County in September was also awarded $251,097 in a state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund Grant to be used toward further improvements to the existing nature preserve, like extending boardwalks.
Roylance said those improvements will come first, and then the county will look into future plans for the numerous parcels it has acquired along Buffalo Creek over the past few years – which now make up a 750-plus-acre stretch of open space.