Wake County leaders OK study into using 600 acres for bike trails near RDU

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) -- The future of some much-debated land around RDU Airport became a little clearer Monday evening.

The Wake County Board of Commissioners voted to move forward with a recreational facilities study to turn 600 acres into an urban trails center.

The location of Lake Crabtree County Park and other land owned by RDU couldn't be in a sweeter spot for outdoor enthusiasts, next to William B. Umstead State Park.

"This is the nexus of centrally located recreation," said Dave Anderson, with the RDU Forest Trail Center Group.

The group is a collaboration of people from multiple groups, including the Umstead Coalition, Triangle Off-Road Cyclists and Triangle Greenways Council. They spoke out against the airport's Vision 2040 plan that developed part of the land.

"Initially the door was shut, then we got a crack in the door, and now the crack is a little bit wide open," said Natalie Lew, an avid cyclist.

RDU's plan has since changed to reflect more preservation and Wake County wants to work with airport officials to make a recreational mecca.

"By creating a recreational trail destination, the land around it becomes not only more valuable, but people will want to buy it sooner," said Wake County Commissioner Sig Hutchinson.

Hutchinson says the 50-miles of biking and hiking trails would be an economic boost to the area including corporate events and races hosted there, along with new business.

"So many companies from REI to Timberline to maybe Trek bicycles will say, 'Can I put my company right next to this beautiful ride center?' Of which the answer is, 'Of course you can'," said Hutchinson.

The first step of the process will be a three- to five-month study by UNC's School of Government Development Finance Initiative, LLC, costing Wake County $67,000.

Then, it's up to RDU, the county and other partners to set it into motion.

"If they can work with us and develop this trail center plan, they'll be chapter one in a history book about the awesome things that can be done around an airport that integrate both the needs of the community and the needs of the airport," said Lew.

RDU released a statement to CBS North Carolina Monday saying, "The Airport Authority is supportive of the community's effort in this space that allows us to meet our federal obligations as we continue forward with the Vision 2040 Master Plan."

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