The RDU Airport Authority may intend to sell off a large part of Lake Crabtree Park

OK, this is 1) technically not in Durham and 2) maybe nothing, but in the last few days I’ve noticed a lot of grumbling about the fate of the Lake Crabtree Park in Morisville.

This park has long been a popular destination for mountain bikers, with an extensive network of trails for all skill levels. Once upon a time, when I lived in (gasp) Cary, I would routinely hop on the greenways and ride up to the park; its central location near RDU makes it very easy to get to, and it’s still one of the most convenient trails for me to get to coming from downtown Durham.

So, what’s going on here, anyway? I was surprised to find out that the trail system resides on property that’s owned by the airport authority and leased to Wake County. That means that, should RDU ever be inclined to develop the land, a huge wooded chunk of the park will be lost and converted to [insert development type here].

The County’s current lease on the area expired last year, and RDU has yet to renew it, which has raised a lot of speculation that the end is nigh. RDU’s latest study indicates that this would be a good location for:

Partly restricted, high-performance development (office, hospitality) set back from the lakefront with direct access to waterfront park.

Some folks at TriangleMTB have been looking into the situation. They’ve also put together a web site specifically to raise awareness.

The Herald ran an article on the situation last week, and they got a response from the RDU authority:

Airport spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin said a lease for another 149 acres, known as the “FATS parcel,” expired last year but negotiations are under way to extend it.

“We are currently working with the county to determine what the length of the next agreement will be,” Hamlin said.

Airport officials say they have no immediate plans to develop the property.

“No immediate plans to develop” – those are the Herald’s words, not the authority’s, but that phrase leaves a massive amount of wiggle room (e.g. RDU might plan to sell immediately, or plan to develop in the future, and that could still have been a technically true statement).

It’s not really obvious to me what if any impact Durham residents can have on this process, since the park itself is just across the border in Wake County. Some potential “outs” here involve some government purchasing the land from RDU; say, DENR or Wake County. But it seems pretty clear that RDU thinks this parcel holds a lot of untapped potential, and even if they don’t act on that today, its future is very much uncertain.

5 thoughts on “The RDU Airport Authority may intend to sell off a large part of Lake Crabtree Park”

  1. There exists a substantial amount of developable land around RDU, the true center of our community. Using part of Crabtree/Umstead/RDU land is the perfect place for a dense TND, and could offer sustainable living attractive to the many people in the area who fly frequently. This sort of development should be encouraged.

    1. An interesting perspective!

      Keep in mind that RDU owns a lot of undeveloped land which *doesn’t* presently contain a popular park. This isn’t an either/or proposition.

  2. Also, not all parks are sacred cows. Umstead is great, and the most attended park in the State. Should 1/10th of it be carved off for housing, it wouldn’t ruin Umstead. I agree, there are other options. That county (Wake) was the fastest growing in the US over the last decade. At current trends our MSA (rooted by Wake) will be Washington DC size by 2040. 5m people. Thus, the options to densify around core foci (particularly RDU) should not be written off.

    1. So, I’m not sure you’re thinking of the right place. The land in question is part of Lake Crabtree Park, not Umstead.

      Crabtree has dense trails, and it’s designed for use by mountain bicyclists. Volunteers have built structures for people to test their skills on, and there’s a huge investment (mostly in volunteer labor) in maintaining it all. It’s a major destination for mountain bicyclists; there’s nothing equivalent to it in e.g. Umstead or Eno River.

      Basically, this isn’t just some stretch of woods with a packed gravel trail in it. Not that I’d love to see Umstead sliced up either, but the FATS parcel has been groomed and maintained as a recreational facility for decades now. If this went away there wouldn’t be a nearby alternative to it.

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