Groups worried about wetlands after sale of Civitan Park

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Bicyclists on the Salem Creek Strollway pass blocking sleds for the Winston-Salem State University football team in the Civitan Park, situated between Bowman Gray Stadium and WSSU's Anderson Center,Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013. (David Rolfe/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The possible purchase of Civitan Park by Winston-Salem State University has two local groups concerned about the future upkeep of the park’s wetlands.

Civitan Park is included in the university’s plans to buy Bowman Gray Stadium from the City of Winston-Salem. Forsyth Audubon and Sierra Club Foothills Group, based in Winston-Salem, would prefer that the city remain the owner of the park.

“Parks are a core function of a city government,” said Phil Dickinson, a board member for Forsyth Audubon. “We need to take care and protect the park land whether it’s active parks for recreation or passive for wildlife habitat and just enjoying (them).”

Forsyth Audubon has recorded 104 species of birds in the last few years at Civitan Park, including several species that the organization hasn’t been able to find nesting elsewhere in Forsyth County. Examples include the Warbling Viero and the Willow Flycatcher.

Dickinson, who is also co-writer of the Bird’s-Eye View column for the Journal, said that parks and recreation help attract people and businesses to the area.

Linda McCorkindale, the chairwoman of the Sierra Club Foothills Group, said that any development next to the wetlands could cause runoff, silting and pollution and affect the quality of the wildlife habitat.

“We’ve worked very hard as a group to bring this area to the place that it is now,” McCorkindale said. “It’s really the Queen of the Gateway in terms of the greenway located there.”

She also said that people can find a lot of beautiful, native trees and wildflowers just beyond the Happy Hill area.

Civitan Park is near Bowman Gray Stadium and Anderson Center on the WSSU campus. It makes up 33 acres of the overall 94 acres that would be included in the Bowman Gray Stadium purchase.

A review by the City-County Planning Board and Recreation and Parks Commission is required before the sale or swap of any city park land. The planning board will hold a public hearing Nov. 14 on the proposed sale.

Based on proposed terms approved by the City Council in May in regard to Civitan Park and Bushy Fork Greenway access, WSSU would retain the wetlands and allow for continued public access to the park and trails through the park, among other requirements.

Aaron Singleton, a spokesman for Winston-Salem State University, said that WSSU and the City of Winston-Salem have agreed that the city would maintain the greenway trails and the university would maintain the wetlands in Civitan Park.

He said that wetlands are protected environmental areas and regulations determine what can and cannot be done to maintain them.

“Anyone who would be maintaining those areas is kind of limited to what they can do,” Singleton said. “However, the university wants to maintain the best possible, attractive area for birds, nature and the public to co-exist.

Singleton said that WSSU wants to attract members of the public as well as nature to the park.

“So it is in our best interest to maintain that area,” he said.

He said that WSSU is working with the city to learn how to maintain the wetlands in Civitan Park.

McCorkindale of Sierra Club Foothills Group recalled a Journal article in July in which a WSSU spokeswoman said that land near the stadium would be available for academic expansion.

“We’re very concerned about it, basically that Salem Creek needs to be buffered,” she said. “It feeds into our main water supply. The wetlands create that buffer.”

Dickinson said he believes WSSU “would try to be a steward of the wetland” if it bought Civitan Park because the university would have obligations under conservation easements and other requirements at the time of the land transfer.

But, Dickinson said, “I’m not sure they have the skills in-house to do that, and that’s something we would want to talk to them about if the transfer goes through.”

He said that some people have assured him that the conservation easements would remain and that the wetlands would be taken care of, but he believes conservation easements can be broken.

“They can be nullified if people really want to do that,” he said.

Dickinson said that Forsyth Audubon and the Sierra Club Foothills will be represented at the planning board’s public hearing in November and that a letter will be presented to the board to express the groups’ concerns about the transfer of the park.

“We would like to see it remain as part of the city park inventory for the enjoyment of our citizens and make sure that access was guaranteed and that we provide a good habitat for our wildlife,” he said.

By Fran Daniel/Winston-Salem Journal