by Julie Tisdale
City & County Policy Analyst
I’d like to commend the Umstead Coalition. For those who think I’m anti-bike, anti-nature, anti-park, etc., this may come as something of a surprise. After all, the Umstead Coalition is a non-profit “Dedicated to the appreciation, use, and preservation of the William B. Umstead State Park and the Richland Creek natural area.”
But the truth is that I’m not anti-park or anti-bike at all. I quite like both. I think it’s great that lots of people enjoy biking along trails and I’m glad that a group like the Umstead Coalition is actively involved in improving that space.
Here’s what I really like about the Umstead Coalition. They seem to be doing things the right way. I’ll confess that I don’t know everything about their finances, and they definitely receive some taxpayer-funded grants. But I’ve also found significant grants from private foundations and businesses (like REI), and income from membership fees. And they’re using that money to build gardens and fund restoration, among other things.
I started looking at the Umstead Coalition this morning after reading an article about their opposition to the industrial development of some land around RDU Airport. I don’t know that I really agree with their stance on this one, but I do think that, if they really want to preserve the land around the airport, there are good and bad ways for them to do so. And looking for private sources of funding and mobilizing concerned parties is a good start.
The next step should be to consider private lease arrangements. If people really do love the bike trails, then perhaps investors would consider long-term lease of the areas around RDU. The Umstead Coalition wants Wake County to lease that land, and they argue that it could make money. But if that’s true why not do it themselves with money from concerned citizens, businesses, and foundations?
Private individuals and groups are stronger and more capable than we often believe. This is an example. I’m not sure of all the legalities around RDU. They may need county approval for the land use plan. Engaging the local government on this sort of project is necessary. But the funding for the sorts of trails and preservation that the Umstead Coalition wants doesn’t have to come from taxpayers.
And if it doesn’t come from taxpayers, then it’s not at the whim of elected officials, who can change and whose priorities shift over time. It’s actually a stronger, more robust arrangement for everyone.