There are moments in our lives when we are presented with the opportunity to do something truly special – something that will serve future generations, something we can look back at with pride. The Raleigh-Durham airport authority was presented with just such an opportunity last week when the Conservation Fund submitted a proposal to buy 105 acres of RDU land to expand Umstead State Park. RDU should seize this opportunity: It is a true win-win, providing the airport with revenue while also preserving a special place beloved by the community.
As anyone who lives in the Raleigh area and enjoys the outdoors knows, Umstead State Park is truly a jewel. Among the urban sprawl development of our growing city, this beautiful, peaceful place provides an important area of respite and a chance for hikers, bikers and runners of all ages to recreate and relax.
What thousands of others also know is that the area adjoining RDU – the site the Conservation Fund wishes to purchase – is a truly special place also. The area is crisscrossed with trails from decades of community use. The land has a unique topography and water features, making it particularly attractive for mountain biking. The terrain is varied – young children learn how to advance their skills, while enthusiasts enjoy challenging single-track opportunities, uncommon in our urban home.
RDU does not need the land for aviation purposes. Before the Conservation Fund made its offer, however, the airport had announced its intent to lease this incredible piece of property for the lowest possible use: to be mined as a rock quarry. The quarry would eliminate the most advanced and picturesque trails in the system, cause significant environmental harm, and disturb the peace of neighboring Umstead Park.
Over 7,500 voices have expressed deep dismay that the forested trails might be blasted and excavated for temporary profit. In my position as Executive Director of Bike Walk NC, the statewide organization advocating for healthy and active transportation options within North Carolina, I talk to hundreds of cyclists who are deeply passionate about the trails. Many even cite the incredible recreational opportunities offered by the land as the primary reason they live in the Triangle. If the trails go, they will follow, they say.
RDU now has an incredible opportunity to work with the community and preserve this important property. The Conservation Fund’s offer to purchase the 105.46 acre property for $6.46 million would allow the airport the chance to gain revenue for its 2040 master plan, without the irreversible destruction that the quarry would necessarily bring. And with this plan, the community could continue to enjoy the miles of forested hiking and biking trails that it has treasured for decades.
At Bike Walk NC we know how important green spaces and recreational opportunities are to maintain the physical and mental health of our community. We also know the importance of trails and greenways to the young, skilled workforce that so many Triangle businesses are seeking to attract. We are lucky to live in a community that appreciates those values, and lucky we have so many local leaders that have paved the way to the network of trails and open space that we have today. We urge the RDU Airport Authority to be part of that leadership.
Bike Walk NC does not stand alone – together with the Umstead Coalition, Triangle Off-Road Cyclists and the East Coast Greenway, we have long worked on a vision for the non-aviation land at RDU that can serve both the airport and the community. We believe that there is now a way forward and we urge RDU to be on the right side of history. Decades from now, when our grandchildren are riding the trails, we will know the right choice was made.
Lisa Riegel is Executive Director of BikeWalk North Carolina.