Two citizen boards that advise the City Council on park, recreation and open space issues have split on the topic of West Point Park's fate in the debate over whether the City should maintain the park or transfer it to state control as one way of preserving the 60-acre Ray parcel adjoining it.
Last night, the Durham Open Space & Trails (DOST) commission voted unanimously to support a resolution proposed by the DOST's open space subcommittee. The resolution calls for the preservation of the Ray (AKA Black Meadow Ridge Tract) parcel as parkland and states that, as "the State Park option seems to be the only means with which to preserve the Tract... the transfer of ownership and management of West Point Park to the State Park system be implemented."
The resolution, however, passed only with the addition of text that such a transfer be conditional on the City and State reaching a memorandum of understanding that would preserve city activities on the site.
The move comes shortly after another board, the Recreation Advisory Committee, opted not to support the resolution. One DOST member felt that RAC would be more favorable if there were a guarantee of city control and access, noting that City staff had told RAC they felt that the West Point Park was “the flagship park of the [Durham] park system."
“I can’t imaging the state allowing the C of D having control over the activities going in at the park," in such a scenario, responded Josie Owen of FOWPP, though she noted that the state seemed open to allowing the City to use the West Point Park for events like Festival on the Eno with permission.
Owen noted a similar discussion she had on Tuesday with Dave Cook (of the Eno River State Park) and the director of Schoolhouse of Wonder, one of the educational groups that uses the facility. She noted that Cook expressed "a great willingness" to work with such groups.
Still, the lack of such conditions and promises in writing created the main discussion point of the evening, as evidenced by the board's conditional support for the resolution.
Easements along one of two existing sewer lines for planned future trails and greenways to connect with the new Eno River bridge were also a concern of the DOST meeting at City Hall.
Meanwhile, a debate over the merits of such a transfer continues to rage in the inboxes of elected officials and the administration, according to public records.
Jessica Sheffield, former executive director of Schoolhouse of Wonder and a past member of FOWPP, sent a concerned email to city and county stakeholders this weekend calling for the City to rebuff FOWPP's push for a transfer to state control.
In her email, she claimed that this transfer push was a "personal mission" of at least one key FOWPP stakeholder and an "aggressive" attempt to fulfill a long-standing personal goal.
Calling West Point park "quite simply, a treasure," Sheffield called for the facility to remain "in our family"--
I encourage you, as members of City Council, to explore the possibility that [FOWPP] is no longer serving its mission. Their original intent was to serve City leaders by acting as an advisor to you on matters related to the City's management of West Point Park. Unfortunately, they are now acting in direct opposition to City staff, sometimes in a confrontational manner. They are no longer serving their mission; they are no longer serving you. You should not have them sign a cooperative agreement with the Department of Parks and Recreation unless they agree to shift the focus of their efforts back to those which support the City's management of the park.
Dave Owen of the FOWPP responded with his own message to Council, the group's treasurer responded that Sheffield had admitted having been "encouraged" to write her letter, and took exception to the idea that the group's mission called for it to support a change in management if such were felt to improve the condition of the park:
Our stated purpose... means that if we find that the durham parks and recreation staff consistently falling short in reaching the those goals, we then go to the city manager and city council to address our concerns. in doing so we "coordinate with the city of durham" as our stated goal. we have consulted with state park officials in the matter of black meadow ridge, as have individual city council members, an assistant city manager and parks and recreation staff....
[As] a durham native and being a regular user of both the Eno River State Park and West Point on the Eno Park through the years, i have noted consistently better managed parkland where the state is in charge. i have expressed this concern to a number of other members of the durham community through the years, not just to the friends of west point park board. this fact became all the more clear when black meadow ridge was recently considered for development and durham parks and recreation recommended the land swaps to pave the way for that to happen, without giving full consideration to all the deleterious effects such a development would have on west point park and the eno river.
Expect this debate to continue for some time as citizens and civic leaders explore both the state's tentative interest as well as municipally-funded approaches to preserve the Ray parcel.