The midmorning soundtrack provided by the inhabitants of Umstead State Park—a chorus of chirping birds and humming insects—is no longer audible to the trail runners and cyclists who frequent the grounds. Nature has found itself drowned out by the roar of aircraft overhead. Pollution from a new rock quarry has damaged Crabtree Creek. A stretch of land once celebrated by naturalists now houses an endless sea of pavement sprinkled with office buildings.
The Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority has not yet completed its road map for the next fifteen years of RDU's development, but should the organization's master plan, known as "Vision 2040," come to fruition, environmentalists fear the aforementioned scenarios would become a reality.
So when authority CEO Michael Landguth arrives at the Raleigh Convention Center Thursday, those who oppose the airport's plans will be there to make their voices heard. Already, more than forty-three hundred residents have signed a Change.org petition to save forested lands near Old Reedy Creek, which might be threatened by the authority's plans, including a new runway close to Umstead.
Members of both The Umstead Coalition and the Triangle Off-Road Cyclists have put forth a compromise of sorts—a "superior community vision" they say promises to "assist the airport with revenue streams" and "enhance" the area via a "Forested Urban Recreation Center." Under their plan, they say, development would still happen, and the authority will still make money—just not on more parking lots, transit facilities, and expanded terminals. Instead, they argue, the airport can recoup fees from businesses that make more sense for the environment: hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, zip-lining companies.
For its part, the authority boasts about how transparent the master plan process has been. Spokeswoman Kristie Van Auken says that in her twenty-plus years in aviation, she's "never seen a master plan process that has been this transparent."
But transparency isn't what opponents are worried about. They want the forested lands, trails, and green space between Umstead and Lake Crabtree County Park to remain unscathed.
"The biggest qualm is that no one that uses that area wants it developed at all," says Umstead Coalition member Debbie Hage. "It doesn't matter what they choose to do with it. People want a place to recreate. Green space is important these days. People move here because of that area, because when they fly into that airport, they see all that green."
A rally will be held Thursday at 11 a.m. outside the Raleigh Convention Center, ahead of remarks Landguth is scheduled to deliver inside.