GREENSBORO — Members of the Guilford County Parks and Recreation Commission declined to vote on a plan for a High Point nature preserve Tuesday night, saying they needed more time and information to make a decision.
“It is just not acceptable to give us something at the last minute and expect us to drop everything,” said Marie Poteat, a commission member. “There was no time to absorb this from the time I got it today.”
Multiple members said they did not receive the 140-page Rich Fork Preserve Master Plan until several hours before Tuesday’s meeting.
The proposed plan for the 116-acre preserve was similar to a previous proposal drafted by the county which recommended that mountain biking be allowed on a portion of the property. The document did not incorporate recommendations from a separate plan drafted by the Rich Fork Preserve Committee, which strongly objects to biking on the land.
The commission directed parks and recreation staff to combine the two plans, giving members an idea of what the preserve would look like both with — and without — bike trails. Bernie Meyers, the commission’s chairman, instructed staff to have the plans ready days before the group’s next meeting to give members ample time for review.
“I’m going to table this until the May meeting and we’re going to take a vote on it,” Meyers said. “Come prepared to vote and let’s get this issue behind us.”
The Rich Fork property was purchased in 2012 for nearly $1 million as part of the county’s Open Space Program, established to buy and preserve undisturbed and undeveloped land.
A corresponding open space committee was dissolved by the county in 2014, sparking a long and contentious debate about the type of activities that should be allowed on the land purchased as part of the program.
Tuesday’s meeting, which packed a room on the first floor of the Old County Courthouse, was filled with familiar arguments. Bikers continue to trespass on the property, according to preservationists, who showed photos of newly constructed trails throughout Rich Fork. Mark Gatehouse, a trails advocate for the Greensboro Fat Tire Society, said his group was not responsible for the trails but suggested that the best way to prevent further trespassing was to offer cyclists a sanctioned space for mountain biking.
“For southern Guilford County, there are not good mountain-biking options,” he said.
Poteat, who is also a member of the Rich Fork Preserve Committee and a former member of the open space group, said the commission would be happy to help the Fat Tire Society find a piece of property to use. But the Rich Fork Preserve, she said, is not that place.
The meeting was tense at times, with shouting from some audience members and whispering among others. At one point, a frustrated mountain biker stormed out of the room, muttering expletives under his breath.
Meyers acknowledged the rancor before adjourning the meeting, telling attendees that similar outbursts and commentary would not be tolerated next month.
“We will have no input from the audience,” he said. “You can come, you can listen to the presentations. But there’s nothing you can say that hasn’t been said numerous times.”
Editor's note: A previous version of this story misidentified a trails advocate. He is Mark Gatehouse.
Contact Kate Elizabeth Queram at (336) 373-7003, and follow @KateElizabethNR on Twitter.