Orange & Durham Counties

A Park to Protect the Water

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Acting Entity: Durham & Orange Counties
Contact Person: Jane Korest
Cost: $1,332,000
Population Served: 176,000

Water Supply: Reservoir
Little River Reservoir, City of Durham
PWS ID: 0332010

Helping Organizations:
Triangle Land Conservancy (TLC)
Eno River Association

Funding Sources:
NC Parks and Recreation Trust Fund - $250,000
North Carolina Land and Water Fund - $359,000 for riparian buffers
Donations raised by Triangle Land Conservancy / Eno River Association- $170,000
Land and Water Conservation Fund - $262,000 (for development of park)
Orange County - $96,000
Durham County - $179,000

Mutual benefits to the participating entities, two counties and two non-profits, helped facilitate this project. For example, grant agencies were more willing to fund a project of interest to a partnership of interested parties; more ideas were generated, different perspectives were incorporated and more resources were made available.
Local citizens' awareness of the importance of this project led to the initiative to protect this land.

Summary: In 1999, Orange County officials identified a 180-acre tract of land for consideration as a landfill site for construction and demolition waste. Tests and evaluations were performed on the site and it looked as though the landfill would be approved. However, residents living near the site did not like the idea of having the landfill near their homes. The affected residents evaluated the landfill site more carefully, and drew attention to the fact that the land was adjacent to the North Fork of the Little River, which is a water supply source for the City of Durham.

Later that year the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted to deny the request for the landfill. In response to the decision of the Board of Commissioners, Durham County, Orange County, and the TLC began discussions concerning a different use for this site and an adjacent 391-acre tract. Durham had been interested in protecting this land because it was upstream from the Little River reservoir, the city's drinking water source, and considered it valuable because of the potential to preserve valuable habitat.  Furthermore, protecting this tract would help to support conservation of open space within a priority area for the county. It would also support Orange County's Little River watershed protection zoning (adopted in 1994), which limits development activities to protect Durham's downstream water supply.

The county line bisected the 391-acre tract, with 255 acres in Durham and 135 acres within Orange County. With the support of the TLC, Orange and Durham counties began discussions with the owner about possible acquisition. The Eno River Association, a citizen-based non-profit group, also became involved due to their interest in the Little River as a major tributary to the Eno River.

In May of 2000, these four entities paid $30,000 for an option to buy the 391-acre tract at a price of $2,600 per acre. To make the purchase of the 391 acres possible, the parties applied for two grants, one from the NC Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the other from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund. Both funds are administered through the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The North Carolina Land and Water Fund approved their grant in April of 2000 and by the end of May, DENR had awarded the NC Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant as well, and the option to buy became a commitment. In July 2001, the counties purchased the land for $1,015,000 with the help of the two grants and another $170,000 in private funds raised by the TLC and the Eno River Association.

The Little River Regional Park is projected to open during the summer of 2003. A federal Land and Water Conservation Fund grant is being used to help with development costs. The park is intended for "low impact recreation" meaning established picnic areas; public restroom facilities; a children's play area; and a large network of bike, horseback, and walking trails. Conservation easements exist along the Little River and a condition of the North Carolina Land and Water Fund grant requires that no facilities be constructed in these corridors. Another condition from the Parks and Recreation grant states that the land must always be used for recreation and that it must be secured with a deed restriction.

The original the 180-acre tract that had been under consideration for a landfill was purchased by a partnership of adjoining landowners with the intention of conserving it. The TLC and Orange County and the current owners are continuing to discuss the possibility of some portion of this property being added into the park or further protected with conservation easements.