Update:

Wake County is conducting a study of the proposed RDU Forest Trail Center. The study should be done by July. Here's a brief overview: RDU Recreational Facility Study.

 

News coverage of the study:

Wake leaders eye land near RDU for cycling center

Wake County Commissioners to Explore Greenspace Options Around RDU Airport

 

The Raleigh Durham Airport plans to develop 600+ acres of land adjacent to the airport.  The plans include building a hotel and office park on the current mountain biking trails at Lake Crabtree Count Park and building a rock quarry on the land that borders both Umstead State Park and Crabtree Creek – land that the Boy Scouts have used as camping groups for many, many years. We have a better idea - an urban trail center – a forested recreation area that would be an economic draw to this area in addition to enhancing quality of life and promoting recreation. The FAA allows this use on airport property. And, yes it would entail revenue streams for the airport via leases to brewery, bike rental, outdoor retail, conference/meeting space, hotel, parking, café, perhaps zip line, and more!

 

The airport is owned by Durham County, Wake County, the City of Raleigh, and the City of Durham.  So, as citizens, we have a say in what our airport does….AS LONG AS WE SPEAK OUT!  Please help make our citizen voices be heard.

 

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The Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority (RDU AA) is nearing the end of an 18 month process of developing an airport Master Plan.  This Master Plan is called Vision2040.  “The FAA describes an airport master plan as a comprehensive study of an airport, describing the short-, medium-, and long-term development plans needed to meet future aviation demand.”  Thus, Vision2040 guides the future development of facilities immediately at the RDU Airport and the development of all lands owned by the airport.  

 

As of September 2016, seven public workshops have been held by the RDU AA.  The first 6 workshops did not directly address land use.  At the 7th public workshop, held on June 28, 2016, the proposed land-use plan was unveiled and this land-use plan recommends commercially developing about 600+ acres of forested land.  The forested areas marked for development include land directly adjacent to both Umstead State Park and Crabtree Creek and much of the land within Lake Crabtree County Park, the most heavily used park in the Wake County Park system.  These forested lands are a unique and distinguishing feature of the Triangle Region and their loss would have a negative impact not only on the local community, but the community beyond the Triangle Region.  

The master planning process revealed that none of these lands are required for runways, terminals, parking, or any other facility directly related to passengers or aircraft at the RDU facility.  The planners propose to use these lands for the sole purpose of generating revenue for the airport by leasing them to developers to build office space, hotels, and a quarry.

The development of these 600+ acres of forested land will have 2 major negative impacts to the Triangle Region – environmental and access to recreation (which fosters an active and healthy lifestyle).  Development will result in the destruction of an important green space buffer between the airport facilities and Umstead State Park and will negatively affect hundreds of acres within the Crabtree Creek watershed.  Development will also result in the destruction of an irreplaceable, centrally-located, forested recreation area.  This forested area has approximately 32 miles of existing recreational trails built by local residents and is used by multiple activity groups including runners, hikers, walkers (with and without dogs), mountain bikers, Boy Scout troops, bird watchers; multiple age groups (adults and kids); and multiple skill level groups (beginners to advanced).  

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In addition to being easily accessible by car, this forested area is connected to the greenway systems of both Raleigh and Cary.  Residents can and do, leave from their homes or workplaces and access this recreation area without having to drive!  This ready access to forested outdoor recreation land fosters an active and healthy lifestyle.  Furthermore, this forested area also fosters family outdoor recreation as many beginner, kid-friendly trails and play areas are available.  With all of these factors, this centrally located forested playground area serves to greatly increase the quality of life of all Triangle Region residents and the loss of this gem would be devastating to the entire community.

Given the master plan is supposed to provide “the flexible framework needed to guide airport development to cost-effectively and efficiently satisfy aviation demand, while considering potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts and benefits,” several user groups (e.g. The Umstead Coalition, the Sierra Club, Triangle Off-Road Cyclists, concerned local citizens, etc.) have banded together to represent the entire Triangle Region community and urge the RDU AA to preserve most of the existing forested lands, trails, and green space between Umstead State Park / Crabtree Creek and up to and including Lake Crabtree County Park.  We suggest that the RDU AA work with surrounding municipalities to investigate the creation of an urban trail center within this property.  This urban trail center, which could be called the RDU Forest Trail Center, together with Umstead State Park, would be available to multiple user groups (hikers, cyclists, walkers, dog-walkers, bird watchers, scouting troops, and the like) and multiple age groups and would not only benefit all Triangle Region residents, but would also serve as a destination recreation/education center that would attract visitors and new residents/talent into the Triangle Region.

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The RDU Forest Trail Center will provide consistent and sustainable income for the RDU Airport by increasing patronage to existing business that are already on RDU Airport property (e.g. hotels, rental cars, taxi services, etc.) and by creating new land leases to a multitude of new business entities which could be placed on the fringes of the forested area.  Such new businesses include hotels, restaurants, breweries, coffee shops, recreation outfitters, bike shops, etc.  In addition to these new businesses, an educational conference and meeting center could be created.  This education/meeting facility would be ideal for corporate meeting space, corporate retreats, educational workshops, training conferences, etc. and would be an additional attraction to live in and/or visit the Triangle Region.  All of these new business entities would benefit the local communities by presenting additional employment opportunities.  This holistic approach to utilizing the RDU Forest as a recreation destination benefits both the RDU Airport and the Triangle Region community.

The benefits of the RDU Forest Trail Center to the Triangle Region in its current and future state (i.e. considering population growth and tourism into the area) far outweigh any benefits which might be realized by creating a few new offices, hotels, and a quarry.  The RDU AA should look at the work which has taken place in places like Charlotte, NC (Back Yard Trails and Renaissance Park); Richmond, VA (James River Park); Knoxville, TN; Park City, UT; and Anniston, AL (Coldwater Mountain) to preserve recreation space and trails close to population centers.

 

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We recognize the importance of the RDU Airport to our area and that it has funding challenges it must address.  However, we believe the RDU Forest Trail Center is a far better solution for the entire local community (and the community beyond) than the current land uses proposed by the RDU AA master plan (Vision2040).  There is no way to replace the land in question if it is given up for commercial development.  Every effort should be made to preserve this valuable and irreplaceable natural area, an area that is a unique and distinguishing feature of the Triangle Region.  By working with the surrounding municipalities, we firmly believe that the RDU AA can craft a solution that not only brings necessary revenue to the airport, but also enhances the communities which the airport serves.