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P.H. Craig Forest clear-cutting begins amid continued community concern

craig forest
Construction equipment sits in P.H. Craig Forest on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. The forest, which is private property of P.H. Craig, was set to be cleared in June of this year, but construction did not officially begin until Wednesday, Oct. 31.

The process of clear-cutting 34.5 acres of the 77-acre P.H. Craig Forest began on Oct. 31.

The forest is privately owned by P.H. Craig, who has allowed the community to use the land recreationally throughout the years. 

The clear-cutting is projected to be finished within the next several weeks, according to a press release from the Town of Chapel Hill. Many members of the community are upset over the possibility of losing access to the property they have become so accustomed to using.

Craig has conserved his property, which lies between land owned by Carrboro and UNC, for the past 50 years and was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine in 2015 by Gov. Pat McCrory. 

Craig was not able to be reached for comment by the time of publication. 

The Town announced the plans and Craig received a permit in June to timber a portion of his property, over concerns of the trees' susceptibility to disease.

Friends of Bolin Creek is a non-profit organization founded in 2003 to protect the Bolin Creek watershed. Julie McClintock, the group's president, said the organization has offered to buy the property that contained the forest in past years, but was declined each time. 

“The tragedy of all of this is that incredible efforts were made, and they were rejected by Mr. Craig,” McClintock said.

Since the plans were announced, the group held a walk and put out a petition to counteract the clear-cutting. The petition had 975 signatures at the time of publication.

The Town also tried to get involved in efforts to stop the clear-cutting.

“We really don’t like clear-cutting in our community, for our trees, the environment and our water quality,” Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said. 

However, all sources acknowledged that this is privately owned property and Craig is within his rights as a landowner to proceed with the clear-cutting.

In the past, Craig has defended his decision by saying he is cutting the trees to maintain the health of the forest.

Loss of a community space and animal habitats, as well as impacts to water quality were concerns for community members.

Bethany Chaney, a member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, said that the property is still special to the Town.

“That piece of property is unique to Chapel Hill and Carrboro in that it has provided a place for respite for human beings and for animals,” Chaney said.

The land meant something different to each person in the community. 

To McClintock, it was a place to watch birds and take walks. Chaney said the community has become so accustomed to being able to freely use the property for hiking, walking and biking that they never considered the possibility of it being taken away.

Tom Cors, vice president of the Friends of Bolin Creek, said the area is unique because it is one of the biggest green spaces in the Triangle area.

“There’s only so much green space that a town has and once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he said.

Cors said this was a loss for the community, as they worked very hard to conserve the property. The Friends of Bolin Creek are planning on holding an event to "grieve" the loss of this community staple.

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The forest borders Bolin Creek, which means that this process could cause sediment erosion in the creek. The heavy equipment required for clear-cutting compacts the soil and harms important organisms in it.

Chaney said there are three options for what could happen to the land after it has been clear-cut. The first and best option would be replanting the forest. The second is eventually turning the property into a residential development. The third is an heir selling the property to the county or a non-profit.

Craig is required to leave a buffer zone of trees along Seawell School Road and the creek.

Chaney said that the property’s status as a bona fide farm makes it hard for outside parties to intervene.

It is unclear if any groups plan to continue protesting the clear-cutting.

“You don’t always get a win, and it stings when you lose — and we lost,” Cors said.

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