Talked out? It’s time to reconsider the Crabtree/Umstead connector

The greenway along Crabtree Creek is great. A parallel paddle trail would make it even better.

Of our recent greenway coverage (see below), Bob writes: “Great overview! The only section I didn’t see mentioned this week is the missing link of the Crabtree greenway between Lindsay Drive and Umstead. Any good news on this one?”


I asked Sig Hutchinson about this stretch last week. Sig, as many of you may know, is the Triangle’s go-to guy when it comes to making trails happen. Back in the 1990s, he was the driving force behind getting mountain bike trails established at the Beaverdam area of Falls Lake. He moved on to become president of the Triangle Greenways Council, pushing greenway development throughout the Triangle. More recently, he’s been the chairman of the Wake County Open Space and Parks Advisory Committee, spearheading 2007’s successful $50 million Wake County open space bond referendum. Whenever there’s a snag in trail and greenway development, Sig usually is brought in to unsnag things. Such is the case with the aforementioned stretch of the Crabtree Creek Trail.

At present, the Crabtree Creek Trail runs about 12 miles along its namesake tributary, from Lindsay Drive downstream to Milburnie Road. Construction will soon begin on the 4.6 miles of greenway linking the Milburnie end of the trail with the Neuse River Trail, a 28-mile work-in-progress that should be finished in about a year. The two-mile stretch would create a link on the northwest end of Crabtree Creek Trail, from Lindsay Drive into Umstead State Park. The link would help fulfill one of the city of Raleigh’s primary greenway goals: to create an interconnected greenway network. In this case, a completed 18-mile Crabtree Creek Trail would provide a link through east and north Raleigh between the Neuse River Trail and Umstead State Park. From Umstead, greenway users can access Raleigh greenway on the west side of town as well as Cary greenway that is on the brink of connecting with the 22-mile American Tobacco Trail, which is on the brink (in a little over a year) of running into downtown Durham.

Unfortunately, the two-mile stretch of Crabtree Creek greenway-to-be between Lindsay Drive and Umstead has been caught in the crossfire of a dispute between local homeowners and a quarry through which the greenway would pass. The quarry has said it would grant greenway access to its land if the city allows it to expand operations at the site. That expansion would bring blasting closer to the homeowners, which doesn’t make them happy. Thus, a stalemate.

When I asked Sig for an update on the situation last week, he replied, “I can’t talk about it.” That means some sort of negotiation is going on. Often, that’s an encouraging sign: You can’t reach an agreement if you aren’t talking. Unfortunately, the three sides — the quarry, the homeowners, the city — have been “talking” for a dozen years.

An argument could be made that with the impending completion of the 2.9-mile House Creek Greenway, the Crabtree connector becomes less important. When it opens in about a month, House Creek will link the Crabtree Creek Trail at Crabtree Valley Mall with the greenway on Raleigh’s west side (Rocky Branch and Reedy Creek), as well as Umstead and the Cary greenway.

The Crabtree connector, though, is about more than just greenway. While I haven’t explored the two miles between Umstead and Lindsay Drive (it’s on private land, which would be trespassing, which would be illegal), those who have say it’s probably the most scenic stretch along Crabtree Creek from Lake Crabtree all the way to the Neuse. The added exposure of a greenway through this area would, I think, be the catalyst for awakening interest in Crabtree Creek’s long ignored, true recreational attribute: paddling.

Crabtree Creek is the rare, reliably navigable waterway through a major metro area. The creek has its remote stretches (Umstead, the wetlands near Raleigh Boulevard), it’s decidedly suburan stretches (through the back of Crabtree Valley Mall), it’s brushes with the 1 percent (along Allegheny Drive, where John Edwards once lived). Mostly, it’s an intimate passage under a full canopy, navigable year round. Yet there’s not one official put-in along this roughly 24-mile stretch.

There is a less contentious option for the Crabtree connector: a route that would leave Crabtree Creek at Ebenezer Church Road, head up the hill, then work its way though neighborhoods before dropping back down to the creek before heading into Umstead. That would bypass part of the scenic beauty those familiar with the stretch rave about. It would also bypass an abandoned portion of the quarry that could be used during heavy rains to collect flood water — and create what Sig Hutchins says would be the highest waterfall on the East Coast.

That would be cool, no doubt. But at this point, it still, after a dozen years, remains all talk. Perhaps it’s time for that talk to veer away from the creek and quarry and into the less contentious alternate route.

The Quarry Route

View Crabtree Connector to Umstead State Park in a larger map

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A week(plus) of greenways

Our week(plus) of greenways:

Thursday, April 12: House Creek Greenway to Open June 25 (Read: Memorial Day)
Monday: 90 Second Escape: Raleigh’s Growing Greenway System
Tuesday: Raleigh’s Neuse River Trail: Another 3.5 miles by August, 16.1 miles by November.
Wednesday: Raleigh’s Greenway: 2014 and Beyond.
Today: A Greenway-Connected Triangle.

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6 thoughts on “Talked out? It’s time to reconsider the Crabtree/Umstead connector”

  1. Excellent synopsis of the Crabtree Connector route, delay & alternatives. Now its Feb 2013 and no further towards completion. But I disagree that Crabtree Creek is reliably navigable. The water level and velocity fluctuates dramatically with any significant rainfall, as it captures Raleigh’s hard surface runoff. At low water, numerous rock ledges, gravel banks and shell banks are impassable. Lassiter Mill Dam would also be a tricky portage.

      1. Good question. There’s no official access above there, and few decent places to access Crabtree, let alone put in. Possibly off Ebenezer Church? Or maybe through the new development going in east of Ebenezer Church?

  2. We live near this part of the trail and run it almost every day. it is the most peaceful stretch of greenway in ALL Raleigh IMO. If you run over the bridge on Duraleigh and look down you can see the trail along the water was clearly planned, just not paved. I have hoped every day for a year to see some sign of construction. Now that I read this, I can stop hoping. ‘Sniffle’ Why can’t the city just do whatever it wants and take the land from the Rock Quarry?

    1. Agreed. This is a beautiful area and allowing Laurel Hill/Oak Park residents and beyond, access to Umstead Park would be such a wonderful addition to the Greenway.

  3. It looks like Raleigh is taking another step toward filling this gap??

    Grant applicaiton approved at June 4th council meeting. The agenda item:

    I wonder if this would be for the “real” greenway option along the creek, or the less ideal option that bypasses quarry property by heading along Duraleigh Road for a while. The acquisition budget of just $56k makes me think the latter.

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