Conservation group wants to buy RDU land, expand Umstead State Park

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A non-profit conservation group wants to buy more than 100 acres of land adjacent to Umstead State Park, with plans for a park expansion.

The RDU Airport Authority is reviewing a multi-million dollar offer from a non-profit conservation group eager to buy more than 100 acres of land adjacent to Umstead State Park, with plans for a park expansion.

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Bill Holman, The Conservation Fund's North Carolina State Dir., sent a letter to Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority Chairman Farad Ali on July 10, proposing the purchase of RDU's non-aviation parcel east of I-40 and Old Reedy Creek Road, known as the Odd Fellows property.

An appraiser valued the land at $66,000 per acre or $6,960,360, but Holman offered $6,460,000, with RDU retaining a permanent conservation easement for enforcing FAA height regulations.

"The Conservation Fund wants to help expand Umstead State Park and help provide the land that's necessary for recreation in a fast growing region of North Carolina," Holman told ABC11.

RELATED: Read the letter from the Conservation Fund (.pdf)

The offer is music to the ears of advocacy groups who've been working for two years to preserve the green space around the airport as RDU has hammered out its Vision 2040 master plan, adopted by the board earlier this month, that designates the land in question for a potential quarry, office space, or industrial use, among other things.

"It's a very heavily used recreation corridor that's just a gem," said David Anderson with RDU Forest Coalition. "And as the Triangle expands, other opportunities for recreation continue to get pushed further and further to the fringes. And we see this as a critical piece that we need to try to preserve as much as possible for recreation."

In 2016, 1.8 million people visited Umstead State Park. Already in 2017, the park has seen nearly 800,000 visitors with visitation in June up 15-percent over last year.

The plan would expand Umstead by 100 acres.

"We are always interested in new opportunities to protect natural resources and further recreational opportunities in our state," said Katie Hall, NC State Parks spokesperson. "We have spoken to the Conservation Fund about the property currently held by RDU Airport Authority and its potential to be part of the State Parks system. Land contiguous to William B. Umstead State Park would certainly be a valuable addition to the park in the future. At this time, no commitment has been made about the state of North Carolina's role in managing this land as part of a state park."

Holman said The Conservation Fund would need to raise public and private funds to pay for the land, proposing to close in cash on Aug. 31, 2018.

Andrew Sawyer, spokesperson for RDU, told ABC11 the board has not made a decision on how it will use to land and there's no timetable. Right now, he said the top priority for the airport is replacing an aging runway.

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