We are at a critical junction in time for the legacy of the RDU Airport. Will the legacy be an airport anchored by an industrial quarry? Or will it be an airport surrounded by a unique forested space that will serve the local community as well as attract visitors, new residents and employees to this area? Will the airport’s legacy attract people to our community or push them away?
As the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill population grows, the public knows that the need for more infrastructure grows. We need more roads, more schools, more houses, more gates at the airport, etc. The public also knows that this growing infrastructure includes the need for more land resources proximal to where we work and live, not on the fringe of the metropolitan area or hours away.
This area’s only centrally-located land resource includes Umstead State Park and lands that are currently owned by the RDU Airport and referred to as RDU Forest. RDU Forest includes Lake Crabtree County Park (LCCP) and the hundreds of acres in between Umstead State Park, Crabtree Creek and LCCP known as the Odd Fellows tract and the 286 tract.
Umstead State Park has more than 1.3 million visits per year and is the most visited state park in North Carolina. Given the expected growth of this area, this usage will surely grow and, at some point, the park will be at capacity. LCCP is already at capacity and over-sourced.
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The parking lots of LCCP and Umstead State Park, along with the parking along Old Reed Creek Road and the brand-new Town of Cary parking lot on Old Reedy Creek Road, are often crowded because the public loves to use these unique land resources in their current forested form.
These facts clearly demonstrate that our community needs more, not fewer, land resources; more access to forests and forested recreation, not less access.
The public knows that the RDU Airport needs revenue. The question is, how can this unique natural resource (RDU Forest) produce the best and longest-term revenue? Is it a quarry and a dime-a-dozen industrial or office use? Or is it a use determined by the needs and desires of the communities that own the RDU Airport, especially given that this natural resource is not needed for direct aviation use? As the RDU Airport is ultimately owned by the citizens of Wake County, Durham County, Raleigh and Durham, I ask that this unique natural resource not be taken from us.
As seen from comments posted on social media, the RDU AA’s Vision 2040 website, etc., the public overwhelmingly supports keeping LCCP, the Odd Fellows tract and the 286 tract predominantly in their natural forested state for use as a forested recreation center. This forested recreation center would be the anchor to compatible businesses such as an executive education center, outdoor recreation outfitters, restaurants, brew pubs, coffee shops, etc., and this entire forested recreation center complex would, in turn, be the revenue producing anchor to the airport.
By offering to buy the Odd Fellows tract and to lease the 286 tract and LCCP, the community has demonstrated that it wants centrally located forested recreation in this area and that it feels the best and longest-term use of this natural resource is to leave the area predominantly in its natural forested state. The lease money and the sale money will produce revenue for the RDU Airport.
The folks who want to keep this land for forested recreation are not just a bunch of tree huggers. We live in the city because we like the amenities of a city, especially amenities that allow for a good work-life balance – good jobs, good schools, good colleges and universities, access to medical care, fine dining, local dining, night life, family life, movies, plays, ballet, museums, art, music, sports to watch, sports to participate in, community parks, city parks, and, yes, forested parks. We come from all aspects of life, but come together and agree that the best use of the lands of LCCP, the Odd Fellows tract and the 286 tract is as forested recreation.
There are other quarries near the airport. There are other places for office parks near the airport. There is not any other place in the middle of this metropolitan community for forested recreation. Once this natural resource is gone, it is gone forever. The legacy of the airport will be determined by the fate of the RDU Forest. Are we going to be a “green” community? Or are we going to be a rock quarry community?
Natalie Lew of Raleigh is team director and head coach for the Southern Wake County Trail Hawks, a middle and high school mountain bike team that is part of the N.C. Interscholastic Cycling League.