Hiking and mountain biking trails could one day connect William B. Umstead State Park and Lake Crabtree County Park to create a large recreation center in Wake County.
Wake leaders hope to reach an agreement with Raleigh-Durham International Airport to lease hundreds of acres of forested land between Interstate 40 and Old Reedy Creek Road. Commissioners on Monday asked the county manager to see if the deal is possible and how much it would cost to lease the land from the airport.
The early plan is in response to a study on the feasibility of an urban trails center – a system of trails with supporting businesses such as shops, restaurants or hotels – between the parks in northwestern Wake.
“I consider this an incredible opportunity to preserve this land,” commissioners Chairman Sig Hutchinson said.
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Members of groups like the Triangle Off-Road Cyclists and the Umstead Coalition have supported the idea of preserving more than 600 acres for a trails center they have branded “RDU Forest.” They hope the area will eventually become like a resort with brew pubs, outdoor-focused stores, bike rentals, rope courses, zip lines and space for meetings or conventions, along with more than 50 miles of trails.
More than 7,000 people have signed an online petition asking the Airport Authority to preserve the land and existing recreational trails.
But RDU’s 25-year master plan, approved by the Airport Authority in October, lays out potential development for the area. Ideas include a hotel or office park, quarry and parking.
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.
RDU officials have said decisions regarding the land surrounding the airport’s core have yet to be made.
Most of the land is owned by the airport, and Wake would likely have to lease property at fair-market value. The Airport Authority is required to adhere to Federal Aviation Administration obligations to receive federal funding and must get FAA approval to develop or lease property, particularly if it is to allow a use that is not essential to airport operations.
The site could become home to leisure venues like TopGolf or Great Wolf Lodge, according to UNC School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative, which helped Wake conduct its study. Based on previous discussions, Hutchinson said he thinks RDU staff will be most receptive to recreational uses rather than new development.
There are already hiking and mountain biking trails at Lake Crabtree County Park and Umstead State Park and “makeshift trails” on adjacent RDU land off Old Reedy Creek Road, said Andrew Holton with the School of Government. RDU has previously said the land adjacent to Old Reedy Creek Road is not open to the public.
“You’ve got an existing infrastructure backbone for recreation,” Holton said.
One key area not included in the study was the tract south of Umstead that RDU’s master plan shows could one day be used as a quarry. Staff said it was not included because RDU is currently considering two offers on the property.
The Conservation Fund, a national environmental nonprofit, recently offered $6.46 million to the Airport Authority to buy about 105 acres between William B. Umstead State Park and Interstate 40 to preserve the land.
The airport also is considering an offer to expand the quarry to the east, Hutchinson said.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-829-4845: @KTrogdon