Orange County

Mayors, neighbors gather to try to save Chapel Hill-Carrboro woods from clear-cutting

P.H. Craig, shown here in a 2015 file photo, plans to harvest the timber from his roughly 70-acre forest (shown behind him). Friends of Bolin Creek and other concerned residents are campaigning for him to consider other options.
P.H. Craig, shown here in a 2015 file photo, plans to harvest the timber from his roughly 70-acre forest (shown behind him). Friends of Bolin Creek and other concerned residents are campaigning for him to consider other options.

A property owner’s plan to clear-cut 34 acres along Bolin Creek has neighbors, environmentalists and two mayors wondering if they can do something to stop it.

P.H. Craig has left the land untouched for 50 years and let Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents use it for hiking and mountain biking for decades.

The Friends of Bolin Creek held a forum Thursday night to discuss options. About 200 people gathered at Smith Middle School. When panelist Doug Frederick, a forester with N.C. State University, asked who had hiked through the property before, nearly every hand in the room went up.

Craig could not attend the forum because he is in the hospital, but he has told The Herald-Sun that he is moving to harvest now because of the risk of fire and insects to the 80-plus-years-old pines. Craig received the state’s Order of the Long Leaf Pine in 2015 for his conservation efforts.

Lydia Lavelle
Lydia Lavelle Alicia Stemper Contributed

“It’s been a beautiful property that he’s made available to the community for many, many years,” said panelist and Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle. “Many of us and our children have been on this property and thought it was a community property when it was in fact his property that he’s made available.”

The tract, 77 acres in total, is next to UNC’s Carolina North Forest. Bolin Creek bounds it to the west and south. Most of the tract is in Carrboro’s extraterritorial jurisdiction and a part is in Chapel Hill. It is considered a farm for tax purposes. Frederick estimated a clear-cut harvest of the 34 acres would bring in $100,000 to $200,000. The full property is valued at $2.3 million.

Pam Hemminger
Pam Hemminger Contributed

Also on the panel Thursday was Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, Carrboro Planning Director Patricia McGuire, Tom Cors of The Nature Conservancy, stream ecology consultant Michael Paul, naturalist and photographer Mary Sonis and Bo Howes of the Triangle Land Conservancy. Also attending the forum were two members of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen: Jacquie Gist and Randee Haven-O’Donnell.

“This is Mr. Craig’s property,” Cors said, “and he is allowed to timber on his property. That’s an inalienable right of owning property.”

McGuire said she understood that the earliest the harvest could begin is September, giving the community a few months to negotiate with Craig. Asked if a bond referendum to buy the property or compensate Craig for the value of the timber was possible, Hemminger said the process to get bonds on the November ballot began in January.

Hemminger added that Craig has a history of almost never selling his properties and has not shown an interest in selling this one.

“He doesn’t like to sell any of his properties at all,” she said. “That’s his philosophy.”

Howes added: “It’s very hard to come up with a concrete number for someone who says they don’t want to sell.”

Dave Otto, an acquaintance of Craig’s, said Craig offered to sell half the property to Carrboro a few years ago, but the town couldn't come up with the money. “He’s offered to sell half before. Maybe he’d do it again.

Sonis, who cataloged some of the wildlife that populates the property, was asked if she ever saw an endangered species on the land that could stop the harvest. She replied that some are threatened but there’s no species that could halt Craig’s plans.

After the forum concluded, Friends of Bolin Creek President Julie McClintock urged those who wanted to help to get together for coffee in the future to discuss options.

Sue-Anne Solem, who has lived nearby on Umstead Drive for 20 years, said she was concerned about flooding both from Bolin Creek and Umstead, both already issues at her house, and other damage to the creek. “It’s great that the cyclists have a place to ride and the walkers have a place to walk, but the creek? Who cares? It’s not a personal issue. It’s an environmental issue.”

Nick Ghitelman, whose children walk through the property to get to school in Carrboro from their house in the Iron Woods subdivision, said he hoped the effort to stop the harvest wouldn’t tarnish Craig’s reputation.

“It’s easy to demonize when you don’t know the facts,” he said, “but we learned today that Mr. Craig is a human being. He’s not well, and he really has treated this land the way all of us have come to adore it.”

Matt Goad:
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