The Rich Fork Preserve in High Point is one step closer to allowing mountain biking.
During a special work session Thursday, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted 5-4 to approve an overall concept for the property that includes hiking and biking trails. The commissioners directed county staff to hire a firm to propose designs for the trails that would be “least intrusive” to wildlife and adjoining property.
The final designs would still need to be approved by the board.
Commissioners Carolyn Coleman, Ray Trapp, Carlvena Foster and Kay Cashion voted against approval of the overall concept and the hiring of a design firm.
The preserve, a wooded 116-acre property in the northwest corner of High Point, was purchased in 2012 for nearly $1 million as part of the county’s Open Space Program, established to buy and preserve undeveloped land.
The heart of the Rich Fork debate focuses on mountain biking, which preservationists say violates the nature of open space properties and could destroy the terrain.
Mountain bikers have argued that trails could be built in an environmentally sound way.
Members of the Hedgecock Farm at Rich Fork Creek Preserve Committee, a citizen’s group, said the county hasn’t listened to their input.
Trapp expressed the same frustration. He said initially the commissioners said they wouldn’t take up the issue until the Parks and Recreation Commission voted on it. However, when the group tabled the issue, the commissioners decided they would make the decision themselves.
“We’re not listening to our volunteers,” Trapp said. “We haven’t taken anything into consideration that they’ve said.”
The commissioners who voted to approve mountain biking said they’ll still want to see plans and designs before moving forward.
“We can’t be asked to vote on something if we don’t understand what we’re looking at,” Commissioner Justin Conrad said. “We had to get past this issue of biking vs. hiking in order to do that.”
Conrad said the property is big enough that both should be possible.
“I can’t fathom that on 116 acres of beautiful land all these activities can’t co-exist,” he said.
Cashion said that wasn’t the point.
“From what I have heard from the family members of the people who sold the land, they intended for it to be a preserve,” she said. “It wasn’t written up in the deeds, but I think we can feel confident that that was their intention.”
A third option was mentioned Thursday — a letter the county recently received from a party looking to sell 10.25 acres of land near the preserve. Though no price was mentioned, the county will look into whether restricting mountain biking to that area would be practical.
Jeff Phillips, who chairs the commissioners, said he is skeptical of that plan.
“We’re open to mountain biking on the property,” Phillips said after the meeting. “It’s a work in progress. We need to get some designs down on paper. But that’s clearly the direction we’re headed at this time.”
The discussion of mountain biking was left for the very end of the meeting.
Most of the hour-and-a-half session was taken up by a discussion of the county master plan for the area and the Hedgecock Farmstead, part of the property that includes a number of structures in disrepair that residents would like to see preserved for their historic value.
The board voted 7-2 — Trapp and Coleman were against — to have county staff solicit proposals on the farmstead. The county will get cost estimates on preserving the buildings.
Dot Kearns, a former Guilford County Commissioner now working with the Hedgecock Farm committee, said that group has already hired a professional to evaluate the buildings.
The group raised $50,000 and has been working with the High Point Historical Society to preserve the structures because they never expected the county to pay for it.
“We have the money if the county wants to use it,” Kearns said.