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Saving the Nature in William B. Umstead State Park

The unceasing prioritisation of profit over environmental wellbeing appears bleak. And social media, pop culture, documentaries, and movies like Hollywood’s Don’t Look Up sometimes, unwittingly, sends the idea that as individuals, we have no other choice than to remain complicit, as we are not the ones in power. It is easy to distance ourselves from environmental issues if it appears we are not directly impacted. And for those who do possess a genuine concern over our beloved environment, to be positively constructive can seem daunting. To begin with how we can actively get involved within our own community, our state parks, and understand how local environmental legislation can be detrimental to us and our wildlife, is a start. So North Carolinians, here is how you can begin to actively engage in your state’s nature preservation, specifically Umstead State Park, and why you should care.

A Brief History of the Odd Fellows Tract

In 1976, Raleigh Durham International Airport (RDU) bought Old Fellow Tract, 105-acres of forest adjacent to Umstead State Park for a safety zone for a perpendicular runway never built. Recently, they declared the tract “surplus”  and signed a “mineral lease” to a private Rock Quarry company, Wake Stone Corporation; the Mining Permit has not yet been approved. This would create a 400-foot rock quarry pit on public land in order to mine. The Umstead Coalition is fighting this destruction of our public property.  The Umstead Coalition is a volunteering based, non-profit organization founded in 1968, to educate people, lead nature trails, preserve the history and directly contact those in power who are responsible for environmental protection. These protections include, but are not limited to air, water, and noise pollution.

Health and Environmental Impacts

A huge part of Umstead State Park which is peaceful now would be destroyed by noise, dust, water quality degradation. Crabtree Creek, a stream that flows through Crabtree Lake and into Umstead State Park, is already contaminated with PCB: a toxic compound that causes serious health issues for us, as well as the wildlife. At the moment though, the forested area in Umstead takes up these contaminants, reducing some of our exposure to this dangerous product. If Umstead is therefore hollowed, then there is no buffer between the State Park and Lake Crabtree. Moreover, the plans for the location of the new quarry, would mean that Crabtree Creek is wedged between that one, and an existing quarry, trapping wildlife that needs to migrate.

Hwa Huang, Chair of the Capital Group of North Carolina Sierra Club since 2020 and involved since 2017, learnt about the devastating impacts the RDU’s quarry will have from Dr Jean. Spooner, Chair of Umstead Coalition. From this particular issue, Hwa further learnt about how this is not an isolated environmental issue in North Carolina, and the root cause lies in the passive nature of state legislation and the current city council of Raleigh. Expanding beyond the Umstead Coalition, Hwa discussed the environmental neglect present at North Carolina’s State Fair last October. Planned and organized by stakeholders, 19 acres of forest was clear-cut for a parking lot; all for the sake of profit and tourism. Again, with the wealthy dictating how our wildlife is treated, any action we take may seem like a lost cause. Yet, Hwa highlighted easy ways we can make a change.

What you can do

•           Send an action alert letter to elected officials in the area through this link https://actionnetwork.org/letters/help-protect-umstead-state-park-request-that-deq-deny-the-new-rock-quarry-mining-application?source=UCsite

•           Form an environmental coalition in our communities. Perhaps research other state parks where they encourage active participation. The Capital Group of NC Sierra Club is looking to form a coalition of environmental advocates/champions, and to get more involved, they can email capitalgroupnc@gmail.com

•           If you live in Raleigh, vote this November to push out current city council members who prioritise profit over environmental wellbeing

Cara Barclay is an exchange student from the University of Manchester, currently studying at North Carolina State University. She is majoring in History and American Studies, spending time hiking and immersing herself in the competitive sporting culture; a drastic change from her life in the UK with Manchester's impressive music scene.
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