Rich Fork Creek seems like a simple problem to solve.
On one side you have a group of people who worked together to create a nature preserve, and when Guilford County stepped forward to buy the land, in the minds of these people it was to create a nature preserve.
Then you have a group that wants a new mountain biking trail in the High Point area, preferably in the Rich Fork Creek Nature Preserve where some mountain bikers have already, without permission, created mountain biking trails.
If this were some place where land was at a premium it would be more difficult, but Guilford County has lots of land, and lots of land available in and around High Point, some of it already owned by Guilford County and not being used for anything.
You can’t move the nature preserve, but it is simple to build the mountain biking trail somewhere else. Guilford County can build the mountain biking trail on another piece of land it owns, or, if the Guilford County commissioners want to, they can buy land specifically for a mountain biking trail park. It could have mountain biking trails all over the place.
If the mountain bikers insist on having a mountain biking trail in Rich Fork Preserve they are being unreasonable. It is a unique piece of land, but every acre of land is unique, certainly there is land somewhere in the area that would be just as good for mountain biking trails as Rich Fork Preserve.
One fact that has greatly complicated the entire brouhaha is that the head of the Guilford County Facilities and Parks and Property Management Department, Robert McNiece, is a mountain biker. This should have no effect on the decisions that he makes as the head of a county department, but those in favor of keeping the nature preserve as a nature preserve say that it has. And they have a point because it’s hard to understand how something that should have been handled at the staff level has instead been allowed to fester for 18 months.
On a grander scale, the continuing problems with Guilford County parks is a case of history repeating itself. Greensboro, the county seat of Guilford County, exists because in the early 1800s the county commissioners got tired of hearing complaints from people in southern Guilford County about being forced to travel to Martinville, which was the county seat and is now the site of Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in the northern part of Guilford County. The county commissioners decided that to end all the moaning and complaining they would build a new courthouse in the exact center of Guilford County. That turned out to be in Fisher Park, which at that time was a swamp. So they walked up the nearest hill to the south and built the courthouse at what is now the intersection of Elm and Market streets. The courthouse has since moved a couple of blocks west, but not north or south.
Today, Guilford County has an extensive and expensive parks system for a similar reason. In Guilford County purchased Bur-Mil Park. Then people in other parts of the county complained that the people in northern Guilford County had a park but they didn’t. Guilford County started buying parkland and building parks so that other parts of the county would have similar amenities.
Until about three years ago the Guilford County Parks and Recreation Department had one employee. The parks owned by Guilford County were run under contract by cities that had parks and recreation departments. Then, because of some questionable accounting when the Board of Commissioners had a Democratic majority, the Board of Commissioners decided that having its own parks and recreation division would be cheaper than contracting out the parks to the cities that had long established parks and recreation departments and knew how to run parks.
It may have looked good on paper but it ignored the fact that, for the fee the cities charged, the county got not just people to cut the grass and maintain the parks but departments with national reputations for running great parks and recreation programs. Instead, the county has McNiece, whose experience was in operating facilities for the US Postal Service, not known for its parks department. And until recently, the county had Thomas Marshburn as the division director for parks and recreation. Marshburn, before working for Guilford County, had been parks superintendent for Gibsonville, a town of about 7,000. Marshburn resigned in April to take the job as parks and recreation director for Davidson County at a lower salary, an indication that all was not going well.
We have written about parks owned by Guilford County that had absolutely no signage. My favorite was Cascade Park in Oak Ridge, which had a parking lot complete with signs for handicapped parking but absolutely no signage indicating that Cascade Park was across the street.
After the Rhino Times wrote repeatedly about the fact that the county had a park with a parking lot but no sign, the county finally put up signage to indicate that there was a reason to have a parking lot out in the middle of nowhere and that the park is across the street from the parking lot.
Guilford County parks and recreation spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a kiddie train only to have the train sit in a shed beside the unused track for five years because of various problems.
Guilford County also had baseball fields that were unusable because the distance between the bases was for one age group and the homerun fence for another.
Bryan Park North isn’t even listed on the Guilford County Parks website. The county does have a sign off the road, and there is a hiking and equestrian trail on the property, but evidently the Guilford County parks division doesn’t want to advertise the fact that it has a 500-acre park in Brown Summit.
The whole Rich Fork preservationists versus mountain bikers controversy is a symptom of poor management. The commissioners either need to bite the bullet and pay for a real parks and recreation department or go back to the way it was done until 2013 and contract out the management of its parks.
Or then again, it could get out of the parks and recreation business all together.