RDU: Bikers illegally using airport land

Shawn Troy of Cleveland rides the popular mountain bike trails on RDU Airport Authority land leased by Wake County for Lake Crabtree County Park on Oct. 8, 2014.
Shawn Troy of Cleveland rides the popular mountain bike trails on RDU Airport Authority land leased by Wake County for Lake Crabtree County Park on Oct. 8, 2014.

New bike trails are being constructed and used on Raleigh-Durham International Airport property along Old Reedy Creek Road even though that area is not open to the public, airport officials said Thursday.

Despite “No trespassing” signs posted along Old Reedy Creek Road to warn bikers that use of the land is illegal, use of the area for recreation appears to be increasing, said RDU spokesman Andrew Sawyer after the airport put out a statement Thursday.

“We ask groups and individuals that are currently building trails and accessing this land illegally to refrain from further such action,” the airport said in the statement.

The land, which falls between Lake Crabtree County Park and William B. Umstead State Park, has been a point of contention between RDU and outdoor enthusiasts for several years.

More than 7,000 supporters have signed an online petition asking the airport authority to preserve 611 acres of forested land and recreational trails to be used for an urban trails center – a proposed system of more than 50 miles of trails and related businesses, such as brew pubs, outdoor stores, bike rentals and ropes courses.

Wake County already leases an adjacent 149-acres for Lake Crabtree County Park, which is used for hiking and biking trails.

“Lake Crabtree is fine,” Sawyer said. “The trails there, enjoy them. But across I-40, that area is designated no trespassing.”

The idea for the urban trails center came in response to RDU’s 25-year master planning process. The master plan, which the airport authority approved in October, lays out potential development of the airport’s core and surrounding land.

The plan identifies two areas for future recreational uses – Lake Crabtree County Park and a section north of I-40 that abuts William B. Umstead State Park.

But local hikers and cyclists have expressed frustration with the plan, because it shows these and surrounding forested areas also could be developed with a hotel or office park, quarry or support activities for aviation.

Jean Spooner, chair of the Umstead Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of Umstead State Park, said she had only been out on the RDU property on tours with permission from the airport, but says it is worth preserving as part of a larger network of trails.

“I can tell you that the site where the new quarry pit is proposed is an amazingly beautiful piece of property with just very challenging terrain,” she said. “The area makes a lot of sense to ... be utilized to take advantage of the economic engine it could bring.”

RDU officials have said the airport authority must get Federal Aviation Administration approval to develop or lease property, particularly if it is to allow a use that is not essential to airport operations. RDU’s master plan still needs to be approved by the FAA before the airport can act on it.

Kathryn Trogdon: 919-829-4845: @KTrogdon