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Nonprofit makes offer for RDU land to add to Umstead State Park

Two hikers set off into the woods at Umstead State Park. The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit, has made the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority an offer to buy about 105 acres between Umstead and Interstate 40 for nearly $6.5 million to preserve it as part of the park.
Two hikers set off into the woods at Umstead State Park. The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit, has made the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority an offer to buy about 105 acres between Umstead and Interstate 40 for nearly $6.5 million to preserve it as part of the park. N&O File

The Conservation Fund, a national environmental nonprofit, has offered $6.46 million to the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority to buy about 105 acres between William B. Umstead State Park and Interstate 40 to preserve the land and have it added to the park.

The parcel, known locally as the Odd Fellows tract, became a point of frustration for local hikers and cyclists during RDU’s recent 25-year master planning process. Vision2040, the master plan the airport authority approved last October and is now being reviewed by the Federal Aviation Administration, lays out potential development of the airport’s core, as well as surrounding land.

The plan lists a possible quarry between Umstead and Lake Crabtree County Park on airport land that the Conservation Fund wants to buy. Jean Spooner, chair of The Umstead Coalition, a nonprofit group of park supporters, cheered the offer.

“We are extremely hopeful that RDU is ready to work with the community to expand Umstead State Park,” Spooner said.

A spokesman for RDU said the authority had just received details about the offer and was not prepared to comment.

“We are reviewing it,” RDU spokesman Andrew Sawyer said.

In a letter to the airport authority dated July 10, Bill Holman, the North Carolina director of The Conservation Fund, said an appraiser commissioned by the fund valued the property at about $6.9 million. The Conservation Fund said it and its partners are prepared to raise public and private funds to finance the purchase and wants to close in cash on Aug. 31, 2018.

This is one of the key tracts that members of Triangle Off-Road Cyclists and The Umstead Coalition have wanted to preserve for a much larger vision called RDU Forest, a system of more than 50 miles of trails and supporting businesses. Supporters want more than 600 acres between Lake Crabtree County Park and Umstead State Park to one day feel more like a resort, with brew pubs, outdoor stores, bike rentals, rope courses, zip lines and places to hold small meetings or conventions, as well as trails.

More than 7,000 supporters have signed an online petition asking the airport authority to preserve the forested land and recreational trails to be used for the project.

Most of the land is owned by the airport, which must get FAA approval to develop, lease or sell property.

Developing or selling airport land could help pay for hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses RDU expects to face in the coming years as it replaces runways and taxiways, builds a consolidated rental car facility and makes other improvements, including rebuilding its longest runway in the next three to five years. But RDU officials have said decisions regarding the land surrounding the airport’s core have yet to be made.

“We have flexibility when it comes to the land-use component as long as it meets the acceptable criteria for airport land use,” Sawyer has said. “Nothing is set in stone yet. Our priority right now is really, really laser-focused on that runway project.”

Kathryn Trogdon: 919-829-4845: @KTrogdon

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