Citizen Green: Open space program leaves a lasting legacy

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Jordan Greenby Jordan Green

During the Season of Reflection — humor me as I merge the Christian tradition of advent with the secular holiday of New Year’s Eve — I’ve resolved to spend more time visiting with friends and hiking.

The state parks service has been promoting a tradition of New Year’s Day hikes for the past couple years, and the Greensboro Parks & Recreation Department hosted a Jan. 2 hike at Lake Brandt so clearly others are feeling the seasonal spirit, too.

My friend Lamar had told me about the Osprey Trail, which is managed by the city of Greensboro and winds along Lake Townsend. He suggested that we hike it together and I eagerly agreed, but for months I let the busyness of life prevent me from following through.

On the Sunday after Christmas — no church! — I took my 2-year-old out to the trail, and she seemed to take to it pretty well. She examined leaves and seed spores with the rapt attention of a scientist, and ran along the trail while shrieking with delight. Although she wanted to jump puddles where the rain had collected on the trail, luckily there were enough other objects of fascination to distract her.

That seemed like a pretty good test run, so on the second day of the new year, I messaged Lamar and persuaded him to join us on another hike that I’ve been itching to do — the Richardson-Taylor Preserve.

Richardson-Taylor Preserve credit Lamar Gibson
The author and his daughter

It’s a magnificent tract of woods bisected by a wetland stream bed that opened to the public in October. There’s a trailhead near Lake Townsend with a footpath running about four miles northward to Northern Middle School. The trail network will eventually continue on and connect with Haw River State Park at the Rockingham county line.

Barely a mile outside of the city limits, the preserve is a sanctuary of natural beauty largely untouched by development, although the calm was interrupted by the sound of a twin-prop puttering in the sky near the landing strip on Air Harbor Road. The trail follows the natural contours of the terrain, switching back and forth to accommodate small streams and ravines. The gullies look like the space between splayed fingers as they spread delta-like towards the floodplain. The generous expanse of wetlands holds standing pools of water crisscrossed with beaver dams. We found a tree that had been felled by a beaver, although it was pointing away from the stream and not close enough to collect any water. There were geese clamoring on the water, and hawks flying overhead.

It’s thrilling to see the preserve open to the public. Six years ago, I hiked the land with John Young and Jack Jezorek of the Guilford County Open Space Committee just a month before the county commission voted to purchase the 250-acre tract. The county acquired the property from the Richardson family, heirs to the Vicks VapoRub fortune, for $2.6 million, at 60 percent of its appraised value through a 2004 bond raised for the preservation of open-space land.

Let’s forget for a moment the controversy over whether the Guilford County Commission acted appropriately by disbanding the open space committee, or whether mountain biking should be allowed in the Rich Fork Preserve in High Point. (Okay, I’ll get political just for just a moment to say I was relieved during our hike in the Richardson-Taylor Preserve to not encounter any mountain bikers barreling down the trail, although I was happy to see people walking dogs and a runner nimbly bouncing over the terrain.)

But the main takeaway is that the residents of Guilford and visitors to the county are incredibly lucky to have this place of respite and wonder to get away from the bustle of city living and reconnect with nature. What a great asset, as not only a setting for recreation and education, but also a protective buffer for the watershed of Lake Townsend — which supplies drinking water to the city of Greensboro. And for a parent, you can’t do much better than a place like this for instilling a sense of curiosity and respect for nature in a small child.

At risk of seeming to take a side, the volunteers on the now-dismantled open space committee who scouted this and other properties and the members of the county commission who voted to acquire the land demonstrated great foresight. They made an important investment by acquiring properties, many of them at a discount, during the economic downtown to preserve undeveloped land for generations to come.

I wouldn’t want to see mountain bikes on this tract of land. But even if they were allowed, the most important thing is that the gentle hills flanking the wetlands of the Richardson-Taylor Preserve won’t be carved up for a new subdivision of McMansions or leased out to wealthy visitors to hunt deer. The preserve belongs to the public, now and forevermore.