There are various ways in which open space benefits each of us in Wake County. Protecting water recharge areas and wetlands, and buffering streams helps preserve the water quality and, in turn, Wake County's drinking water. Buffers along our streams slow down storm runoff and decrease the chance of flooding. Allowing adjacent wetlands and floodplains to store water without obstructions during storm events keep homes and businesses from flooding. Open space and greenways increase the value of nearby land, and recreational opportunities encourage corporations to bring their headquarters to this area. By supplementing agriculture, farms and scenic vistas. open space helps offset the visual impact of ever growing cities and towns. Open space ensures that the quality of life found in Wake County will continue to attract people to this area in the future. Recreational opportunities are also important to the quality of life. Active and passive recreation requires open space and parkland. It is also necessary to preserve the cultural and historical landscapes of Wake County for future generations. Finally, large, contiguous tracts of land and good water quality are needed for wildlife habitat.
Listed below are several reasons why open space is beneficial to Wake County:
Water Quality Benefits
Our Sense of Place
Does it make good economic sense to preserve open space? You bet! Open space prevents economic loss from floods and costly pollution. Open space attracts new business and industry. Open space also improves the value of adjacent land.
Open space areas are typically populated with attractive plants, flowers, trees and gorgeous views of nature. Owners of buildings or properties that contain or overlook these areas can command premium rents. As a building owner you generally have to charge less for a view of a parking lot or a road than a view of a forested greenway. Attractive areas are more desirable to developers, enticing high-quality growth to the community. This, in turn, brings more jobs and attractive places to live.
Numerous studies around the country have shown that being close to open space is linked to an increase in residential property values. In fact, Wake County commissioned a study to determine whether Wake County’s open spaces are generating increases in property values. Indeed, the study found that homes in Wake County sell for significantly more money – and therefore generate higher property taxes – if they are located closer to any type of open space.
Water Quality Benefits
Hey – everyone wants clean water, right? Sure! We need it for safe drinking, boating, swimming and fishing. Yet the State of North Carolina has identified the Neuse River as one of its most polluted water bodies. How did it get that way?
One way rivers get polluted is stormwater runoff. Every time it rains, some of the water soaks into the ground, but a lot of it "runs off" and flows into streams and creeks, which eventually empty into rivers, lakes and the ocean. Every time we pave a parking lot, build a road, put a roof on a building, or remove vegetation from a site, the amount of water that soaks into the ground is reduced, and thus, the amount running off increases. Why is this a problem?
When it rains in highly developed areas, water flows across streets, parking lots, buildings and disturbed land with no vegetation. This water picks up small quantities of motor oils, antifreeze leaking from cars and heavy metals from exhaust gases. It also picks up sediment (sand, clay and dirt particles), fertilizers, litter and pesticides. These little "extras" eventually find their way into our streams and lakes. This happens virtually everywhere there is development, so it is not unique to our county.
The quantities of pollutants from one rainstorm are probably not significant. But adding the pollutants generated in our county to those from surrounding counties, and then multiplying that by the number of times it rains in a year, magnifies the end result manifold. Much of this eventually gets carried downstream, ending up in the ocean and estuaries. An estuary is the wide part of a river that meets the ocean. Salt water and fresh water mix together here, forming an incredibly rare and unique habitat. Nearly 90 percent of all ocean species we consume (shrimp, oysters, clams, fish) are born and spend some part of their lives in estuaries. If these "nursery grounds" are compromised, we will no longer have seafood!
OK – so how does open space help?
Open space helps in two distinct ways. First, any land that remains undisturbed, by definition, does not contain cars, parking lots, streets and buildings. Undisturbed land generally does not contribute pollutants to our streams and lakes.
Second, and most importantly, open space usually contains natural grasses, wetlands, plants, shrubs and trees that serve as filters, removing pollutants before they get deposited into our water bodies. When polluted water flows through these areas, the plants, trees and wetlands "scrub" and filter much of the pollution out of the water before it finds its way into a stream.
Water quality improvement is one of the most powerful benefits of preserving open space. Naturally, the lands that immediately surround streams, lakes and rivers are the most useful for filtering pollution. Finding creative and unobtrusive ways of preserving these lands should be a high priority in any open space plan.
How does open space protect wildlife?
In many valuable ways!
It is generally agreed that one of the biggest causes of the decline in certain animal populations worldwide is loss of habitat. What exactly is habitat? The dictionary tells us habitat is the "natural abode, locality or region of a plant or animal." Put simply, habitat is where animals and plants live.
Every type of animal and plant needs certain things from its home in order to prosper. For example, black bears need a large area to roam and hunt. An endangered plant such as the Venus flytrap needs a certain type of soil found only on the edges of wetlands. A red cockaded woodpecker needs to have an area of undisturbed pine forests in which to build a nest. The point is, if people convert too much of an animal's or plant's habitat to other uses, it may not be able to adapt to its new circumstances. It may leave, or worse, it becomes threatened or endangered or even extinct.
Protecting open space is an excellent way to preserve "habitat" for plants and animals. It guarantees that they, too, will have a place to live and thrive in our community.
Preserving open space is an excellent way to provide recreational opportunities to our residents and visitors. There are two types of recreation for purposes of this discussion – active and passive.
Active recreation is the type with which most of us are familiar. This refers to activities most commonly associated with parks and managed areas, like rollerblading, soccer, softball, field hockey, football and bicycling.
Passive recreation is what you think of when you go for a walk in the woods and enjoy the scenery along the way or spend an afternoon fishing with your children or have a family picnic in a sunny meadow.
Open space can be managed and intended for either or both types of recreation, or for none at all. An area of bottomland hardwoods surrounding a stream may be an excellent place for passive recreational activities such as birdwatching or walking. But it may not be well suited for more active types of recreation, such as a field team sport.
One very important decision that must be made in the management of open space is what kind of public access (and recreation), if any, is to be allowed. Sometimes a piece of land may be perfect for the development of ball fields and bicycling trails. Other times, open space areas may contain endangered plants and animals and, therefore, may not be suitable for recreation. Rarely, a piece of land is so ecologically valuable and/or endangered that all types of public access should be restricted. Only careful study of a variety of factors will determine the suitability of a particular area for recreation.
DO WE REALLY NEED RECREATIONAL AREAS?
Absolutely! We all know that the stress of everyday life can become overwhelming. Balancing work and family obligations, spending time in traffic, paying bills – all of these things are stress factors, which nearly everyone agrees can harm your health if not controlled.
It is also understood that one of the very best ways to reduce stress and restore balance to your life is to exercise. You can do this in a gym or your house, but it is also very enjoyable to exercise outdoors, or in other words, to recreate. Spend several days per month bicycling, jogging, playing ball or simply walking in the woods, and you will notice a decrease in your stress levels. You might even find yourself in better condition at the end of the year! The bottom line is that people need areas close to their homes in which to safely engage in recreational activities, if they so choose.
Wake County residents enjoy a variety of well-managed parks, but we hope to do so much more! Open space may be used to create a network of bicycling and walking trails throughout the county, enabling people to choose alternate means of transportation other than cars. This means that you could get to work by bike, or perhaps your children could ride their bikes to school or soccer practice, relieving you of the "taxi driver" job in your family!
Our Sense of Place
As Wallace Stegner said, "If you don't know where you are, you don't know who you are." During the past 30 to 40 years many of our communities all across America have begun to look alike, indistinguishable from one another. It is difficult to determine a difference in the suburban landscapes throughout Wake County. Are you in Raleigh, Cary, Garner, Wake Forest or Fuquay-Varina? Additionally, the landscapes that were created during this period, miles of strip malls, fast food restaurants, auto dealerships and gas stations, are often inhospitable to everyone except automobile visitors.
This strip development along our entry roadways tells visitors and residents alike very little about Wake County. Our culture and heritage is better defined by our open space and best articulated in the stewardship of the land. Due to the fact that Wake County is not located in the mountains or along the ocean's edge or on a major river, the most significant natural resources of Wake County include the green forests of loblolly pine, oak and maple. Our community grew along the creeks and streams that flow from abundant watersheds throughout the county. Our rolling terrain has been the building block for our agricultural and industrial economy. Our natural heritage has served to define who we are as well as where we live. We can't afford to turn our back on this heritage. We must do our part to protect and conserve this place for future generations.
To learn more about each of these, read the benefits section of the Consolidated Open Space Plan.