Sig Hutchinson, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, is a tree-hugger and proud of it. So when he calls the Marks Creek watershed 10 miles southeast of Raleigh the “Hope Diamond” of the region’s open space program, it means something.
The effort to preserve the watershed, a goal of preservation groups as part of protecting 7,500 acres of undeveloped land around the Wake-Johnston county line, is a noble one, and now within reach. Groups have been gathering land and raising and spending money, nearly $25 million, and when the deed is done, the natural park that results will be larger than the 5,500-acre William B. Umstead State Park.
That’s remarkable, and all the more so considering the tremendous pressure for development in this area. That growth has given the various groups pushing preservation a sense of urgency. Undeveloped land is at a premium.
It’s refreshing that so many residents who’ve sold property to the Conservancy understand the significance of open space to the point that they likely got less money from TLC than they would have from developers. But they don’t mind.
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Once of TLC’s newest projects is the Walnut Hill Nature Reserve, 405 acres near the county lines. Betty Brandt Williamson, who with her sister Sally Greaser sold the land to TLC in 2012, remembers the land as her father’s farm, with cows and tobacco and wheat and oats and barley. She visited the property even after the family had moved to town. Williamson said of the pastoral setting, “It’s just medicine for the soul.”
The county’s commitment, and the wisdom of other preservationists, is a tribute to individuals and to the values of the leadership in a county where livability and space and nature still matter.
It’s a good time, in this area, to be a bicycle rider or a hiker or just someone who likes to get out for a walk. The city of Raleigh will have Dix Park, and the county will have hundreds of acres of preserved open land.
But even with these triumphs, Wake County will need to be vigilant in terms of raising money and purchasing more land. Hutchinson would like to see another bond issue for open space, and he’s right.
I-540’s development, with another leg from Holly Springs to Knightdale coming, will ramp up development. The fast pace of growth makes it all the more important that the county, and its partners, continue to strategically buy property for preservation.