2017-03-18 / Front Page

Trail study could net useful data

By BILL WILLCOX
Courier-Times Staff Writer

About 60 people gathered for a public meeting Wednesday afternoon to learn about a planning grant awarded to Person County that could be a tiny first step to the dream of a trail along all or part of a railroad corridor from Roxboro to the Durham County line.

John Hill, director of the county’s Recreation department, said the grant will help with the county’s planning purposes. It specifically was designed to study the animal and plant habitat along a rail corridor, with one mile buffers on each side.

Hill said there had been talk years ago about doing something like rails to trails or just putting a walking track along certain parts of the rail corridor.

But this study will take a longer view of the corridor, not studying potential uses of the corridor, but examining the flora and fauna throughout the area. Hill said that by doing that, county leaders could better determine what the best uses of the corridor might be.

Having that information could affect a lot of different things as far as planning down the road for future recreation and greenway spaces, eco- nomic development and preservation of natural resources and conservation.

“So it is all tied together in the big, big planning process of what can happen with the railroad corridor and future Person County planning,” Hill said.

Hill said he wanted people to consider the benefit of having commuter trails from southern Person County to Roxboro, and how that might benefit community health and wellness and be an asset to promote economic development.

Brooke Massa, a biologist with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, who was a member of the committee that awarded the grant, discussed the content of the Wildlife Action Plan, which listed species “of greatest conservation need and significant to Person County.” The list does include eight species of rare mussels that are found in the Flat River.

Jane Korest, of Durham County Open Space, displayed a slide depicting parcels that are part of the Durham County Open Space Program in northern Durham County.

“The state has rated the Flat River on the Durham side very high in conservation value because of the mussel species,” she said.

Hill emphasized that the grant was a first step and was designed as a planning tool only.

“The whole point is knowing what is in your backyard,” he said. “The whole point of doing inventory is that it helps planning for the direction of development or needs for conservation. We won’t know what’s there until the research is done.”

Massa said the inventory should be complete sometime in the late summer, but Hill said it is important not to jump ahead.

“A lot of people like rails with trails, but we are not down that road yet until we understand the feasibility,” he said. “Don’t leave this room thinking John Hill said ‘come out here and bring a shovel.’ This is a planning tool. It is not just planning for recreation, it’s a planning for DOT, it’s a planning for economic development.”

Person County Development Director Stuart Gilbert said a lot would depend on the railroads and their future plans.

He said the county has been in meetings with Durham County recently, working on the idea of future possibilities of rails to trails and understood it “would be a positive quality of life attribute, but the big issue is what Norfolk Southern will do because they are the ones that own the line and the right of way.”

“We don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up but I’m always positive about the future,” Hill added.

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