• What is Wake County’s Consolidated Open Space Program?
• Why does Wake County need an Open Space Program?
• What are the benefits of open space?
Wake County's Open Space Program, the first of its kind in North Carolina, protects remaining open space in the county by working in partnership with local NGOs, municipalities and state/federal agencies. The program's overarching objective is to protect 30% of Wake County’s land area (or roughly 165,000 acres) as permanent open space. For more information on the County’s current open space holdings and its progress toward meeting the 30% goal, see the Current Open Space page.
While Wake County has long had an interest in protecting open space, the Open Space Program began in earnest in 2000 when 78% of Wake County voters authorized a $15 million open space bond. Voters approved a second bond for $26 million in 2004. Wake County first used this funding to support each of the County's municipalities in creating their own open space plans. Wake County then weaved together a regional open space vision by combining key attributes from individual municipal plans with County-level priorities to create an integrated, countywide Consolidated Open Space Plan (COSP). Open Space staff work to implement the recommendations of the COSP and protect key parcels of land through leveraging County bond monies and purchasing land and conservation easements in targeted conservation areas.
An advisory board appointed by the Board of Commissioners (the Open Space and Parks Advisory Committee, or OSAPAC
) provides input and feedback on the direction of the Open Space Program.
Why does Wake County need an Open Space Program?
As Wake County’s population reaches an expected 1 million by 2015, natural lands are being converted to suburbia at a rapid rate. To balance this pressure on the natural environment and ensure future generations will have access to greenspace, Wake County government has recognized the need to protect a portion of the county’s remaining natural land.
Protecting open space in Wake County will generate an interconnected system of greenspaces that will attract homeowners and businesses; prevent economic losses from floods and costly pollution; support a clean water supply; and produce fresh air, fertile soils and biologically diverse landscapes. The Open Space Program's investment in the preservation of working lands (farms and forests) will also help support a vibrant agricultural economy that has historically defined much of the county’s sense of place.
What are the Benefits of Open Space?
Some of the most important benefits of preserving open space are briefly described below. To learn more about all the benefits of open space preservation, read the benefits section of the Consolidated Open Space Plan.
Open space, especially buffers along our streams and wetlands, prevents economic loss from floods and costly pollution, attracts new business and industry, and increases property values. Attractive areas are more desirable to developers as they increase the value of nearby land, and owners of buildings or properties that contain or overlook these areas can command premium rents. Recreational opportunities also encourage corporations to bring their headquarters to this area. Numerous studies around the country have shown that being close to open space is linked to an increase in residential property values. In fact, a study commissioned in Wake County 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
We need water for drinking, boating, swimming and fishing, so improving our water quality by buffering wetlands and streams is one of the most powerful benefits of preserving open space. Rivers become polluted when rainwater picks up motor oils, fertilizers, litter, pesticides and other pollutants and then "runs off" into streams and creeks, which empty into rivers, lakes, estuaries and the ocean. Every time a site is developed with parking lots, roads and buildings, the amount of water that soaks into the ground is reduced, and the amount running off increases. Any land that remains undisturbed does not contribute pollutants to our streams and lakes. Open space, particularly open space surrounding streams, lakes and rivers, usually contains natural grasses and other vegetation that serve as filters, removing pollutants before they are deposited into our water bodies.
Recreational opportunities are important to quality of life, and preserving open space is an excellent way to provide active and passive recreational opportunities to our residents and visitors. 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, and encourage activities such as jogging, playing ball, fishing or simply walking in the woods. For more information about recreation access to County-owned open space, see the Park Projects
In some cases, open space areas contain endangered plants and animals and, therefore, may not be suitable for recreation. One of the biggest causes of the decline in certain animal and plant populations worldwide is loss of habitat – the areas where animals and plants live. Every type of animal and plant needs certain things from its home in order to prosper. 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. If too much of an animal's or plant's habitat is developed for other uses, it may not be able to adapt to its new circumstances and may leave, become threatened or endangered, or even extinct. Protecting large, contiguous tracts of land and maintaining good water quality are important for healthy wildlife habitat.
Our Sense of Place
As author and environmentalist Wallace Stegner said, "If you don't know where you are, you don't know who you are." By supplementing agriculture, farms and scenic vistas, open space helps offset the visual impact of our growing cities and towns. The strip developments along our roadways tell 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. Wake County’s most significant natural resources are its 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 must do our part to protect and conserve the cultural and historical landscapes of Wake County for future generations.