With the timeline for Denmark Park still undecided, Forsyth County Commissioners agreed to allow residents to use the open space bought for the park as a drone flying area.
During the work session on Tuesday, May 11, commissioners approved a proposal presented by Parks and Recreation Director Jim Pryor. The vote passed unanimously.
During his presentation, Pryor said that District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent asked for the county staff to investigate the possibility of allowing drones and creating a flying area at Denmark Park.
Pryor said that Denmark Park is comprised of two different parcels totaling 81 acres. The proposed flying area would be in the back parcel off Windy Hill Drive with a “large, flat and open” space.
While Pryor said that “opening a raw piece of land” for use was not typically what the county liked to do, it seemed like a good fit for the space.
“We thought this was the best area of the property where you could actually see or have full vision of the entire area where you can fly your drone,” Pryor said.
Pryor said that a few years ago, a barn and garage were cleared and have since been left graded. He said that would be the perfect place for the county to put down gravel to create a parking lot near the drone flying area.
The estimated cost for the project is $10,200 which is “mostly for a Porta-John serviced on a weekly basis.”
Pryor also said that only drones would be permitted to operate in this space and that airplanes and gas-powered planes were prohibited.
Other rules include compliance with all regulations by the Federal Aviation Administration, recreational drone use only on the site and termination of access to the property by the county is permissible at any time.
Drone usage will only be allowed on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at different times throughout the year. In the summer months, May to October, the field will be open from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. In the winter months, November to April, the field will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Pryor said that staff and rangers would be at the flying site to open the park, patrol and close the site at the appropriate times.
Pryor told commissioners that the drone usage proposal received an endorsement from the Parks and Recreation Board, but members did have some concerns, such as drones being a potential nuisance to bordering homeowners. He said that while the site does have a neighborhood directly to the north, it is “pretty well buffered by a tree line on the property and a stream that goes through that corridor.”
“As long as [drone users] stay within the tree line, we don’t anticipate a major nuisance,” Pryor said.
The Parks and Recreation Board was also concerned about people flying airplanes instead of drones at the site.
“While we [will] post the rules, we know sometimes people don’t follow the rules,” Pryor said.
Pryor said that since permits will not be required for drone usage at the site, the county has permission to terminate access.
After hearing the presentation, District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson asked if it would be a good idea to include a rule that people cannot go fetch a “downed drone” on residential property, since there was the abutting neighborhood to the north.
Mills agreed, saying it would help reiterate that people can only fly drones within the tree line at the park.
Semanson was also concerned about the possibility of flooding and flood damage to the site, but Pryor said there was “a little wetland area that’s on the bottom of the property,” but not near the flying area. He said he was not concerned with flooding of the parking lot or the flight field.
Levent expressed his approval for the proposed plan because Denmark Park could potentially turn into a space for public safety to train with drones. Levent said that police officers and firefighters often use drones for training, finding safe spaces to walk in burning buildings or inspecting a situation from afar so deputies do not get injured.
“This would give a good place for a lot of that [training] to take place, and there’s a lot of recreational people that love to use [drones] as well,” Levent said. “And they’re not terribly loud.”
Fire Chief Barry Head corroborated Levent’s statements, saying that the fire department has certified FAA pilots and a few different types of drones.
“We all know that drone usage is growing leaps and bounds right now, as is the technology,” Head said.
Head said that he believed drones were “safe” and that he gets calls from residents wondering where they can fly drones recreationally in the county.
Commissioners approved Pryor’s proposal with a 5-0 vote, allowing county staff to begin working to set up a parking lot and drone flight area at Denmark Park.