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News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)
Trails at the County Farm, the opening of three preserves, and perhaps a happy ending for Rich Fork are in sight.
After a year of turmoil in which the Guilford County Commissioners, the Guilford County Parks and Recreation Department and the volunteer Parks and Recreation Commission were frequently at odds with the public - and sometimes each other - this year is beginning with a flurry of positive activity.
Three open-space preserves will open in April, a new trail is being constructed at the Guilford County Farm and preliminary plans for the Rich Fork Preserve are getting positive reviews.
Last week's meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission was its most substantive in months.
Plans for both trails and farmstead preservation at Rich Fork Preserve are proceeding on parallel tracks.
People on both sides of last year's controversy about whether mountain biking should be allowed there are working with Parks and Recreation staff to come up with a plan that provides mountain bikers with recreational opportunities without infringing on the rights of nearby homeowners.
A preliminary trail plan completed by KCI Associates has been flagged on the property, and both groups have walked the proposed routes in recent weeks to provide feedback and suggest improvements, County Property Manager Robert McNiece said.
"I think we've made tremendous progress in dealing with some of the concerns that some of the adjoining property owners had and also some of the concerns that the bike folks had," McNiece said.
A primary, multi-use trail will run from the YMCA at the northern end of the preserve to Northwood School on the southern end. This trail will be 6 to 8 feet wide, with a fine gravel surface. A Hedgecock loop trail will encircle the historic farm buildings on the property.
Many of the existing "spaghetti trails" created by mountain bikers will be closed. The proposed single-track mountain bike trail will consist of an inner and outer loop, featuring elevation changes but no straight downhill runs.
"KCI reduced the interaction with the multiple trailheads coming together, so safety is much better under their plan," said John Gladstone, acting supervisor of passive parks and the county farm. "And we were able to stay out of the wetlands to lessen the environmental impact. They're trying to utilize what is there - what is healthy, what is safe and environmentally friendly. They took out what is not...and added on new trails."
Though concerns remain with line-of-sight from mountain-bike trails to private homes, adjoining property owners who have walked the trails are pleased with the overall plan.
"They've done a good job laying out the scope of the park, taking into account wishes of bikers, walkers, environmentalists," Herb Goins said at a recent meeting of the Rich Fork Preserve Committee.
Goins lives on Carolyndon Drive, adjacent to an area in the preserve where mountain bikers routinely had trespassed. "In my opinion, it's a pretty good plan," he said.
The preservation group that had opposed mountain biking in the preserve has focused its attention on saving the property's historic farmstead, which includes a farmhouse built around 1900. Now formally known as Friends of Rich Fork Preserve/Hedgecock Farm, the group is working with Preservation Greensboro Executive Director Benjamin Briggs and the High Point Preservation Society on a plan to manage the historic properties.
The plan calls for "mothballing," or minimal stabilization, of most of the remaining farm buildings, said Marie Poteat, who is a member of both the Friends group and the Parks and Recreation Commission. Pending a final vote, the High Point Preservation Society would join with the Friends to stabilize the buildings, raise money to maintain them and provide liability insurance.
"There is no budget for funding, from the county's perspective, to do this sort of preservation or take on these buildings," McNiece said. "This group is very passionate about keeping these buildings, and they're willing to take full responsibility for the buildings, from providing liability insurance to figuring out fundraising."
The farm buildings would remain the property of Guilford County but would be managed by the group in the same way that Forsyth County manages Triad Park and the city of Burlington manages Guilford-Mackintosh Park.
Work on three other open-space preserves is nearing fruition.
Grand openings are scheduled at 9 a.m. April 28 at the Saferight and McCandless Woods preserves near Southern High School, and April 21 at the Company Mill Preserve adjacent to Hagan-Stone Park.
Instead of being cut by machine, which many in the trail community found objectionable, the trails at Company Mill were built by hand. Volunteers from AmeriCorps contributed $39,000 in labor to the Company Mill trails, said Matt Wallace, program manager for passive parks and trails.
The Guilford County Farm is benefiting from help from volunteers with the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST). That group built a 1.5-mile trail that bisects the farm and connects to the MST in Alamance County. The group already has devoted 750 hours to trail-building there, with plans to add a 2.5-mile loop trail by summer.
"They have done a really nice job," Wallace said. "It's one of the gems at this point."
County Commissioner Alan Branson, who sits on the Parks and Recreation Commission, asked its members to explore other ideas for turning the County Farm into a recreational destination now that it is no longer used as a prison. The land could also accommodate fishing, horseback riding and camping, as well as events such as tractor pulls, Branson said.
The County Farm's popular greenhouse operation continues, with a Plant and Honey Sale scheduled for April 1. In addition to honey and flowers, there will be vegetable plants, including squash, cucumbers and tomatoes.
Wallace also is turning the Park Finder search engine on the county's website into a mobile app that lets users search for park destinations based on activities and amenities. The app shows users which ones are closer and links to maps of how to get there.
After a year of frustration and stalled efforts, it is heartening to see the county parks staff, the parks commission and the public working together more effectively, infused with a renewed sense of energy.
Pending the blessing of county commissioners, this could mean a happy ending not only for the Rich Fork Preserve, but for all the parks and preserves in Guilford County.
Contact Susan Ladd at (336) 373-7006 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/susankladd or on Twitter at @susanladdNR.
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