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Private Investment in Watershed Protection Advances Triangle Conservation Efforts

Novel partnerships and long-term collaboration enable the region to address watershed health

North Carolina’s Triangle region (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill-Cary-Garner) is one of the fastest-growing areas in the country. Rapid development threatens the forests, wetlands and grasslands that naturally protect drinking water supplies for 600,000 people in Raleigh, Garner, Wake Forest, Rolesville, Knightdale, Wendell and Zebulon areas. Natural infrastructure, like forests and wetlands, can address these challenges by providing basic services from water flow regulation and flood control to water purification and water temperature regulation. But with the rising cost to acquire land in and around the Triangle, protecting these places has become increasingly costly for nonprofits and public agencies.

In recent years, public agencies Raleigh Water, Wake County, City of Durham and Town of Cary have worked alongside local land trusts including Conservation Trust for North Carolina, The Conservation Fund, and Triangle Land Conservancy to acquire and manage land in the Falls and Jordan Lake watersheds. Now, the Caterpillar Foundation is among corporate foundations and private investors stepping up to fill a critical funding need.

The Foundation will invest $250,000 in natural infrastructure and land conservation as part of a new partnership to safeguard important local natural lands.

“Local communities in the Triangle Region are increasingly investing in natural infrastructure, although the COVID-19 pandemic has strained public budgets and limited cities and their utilities resources and capacity to protect vast watersheds at a critical time,” said Edward Buchan, City of Raleigh.

This initiative fits into a growing movement to integrate natural infrastructure with traditional concrete-and-steel infrastructure to improve delivery of core services, like drinking water and flood protection, while increasing resilience. World Resources Institute, a global research organization, has advised this alliance on strategies to combine “green” and “gray” infrastructure by leveraging new partnerships and funding opportunities. The Caterpillar Foundation is one of the first corporate foundations to develop a dedicated program to support this new approach.

“Novel partnerships and long-term collaboration are critical to addressing watershed health across the region,” said CTNC Executive Director Chris Canfield. “Everyone has a role to play. Public water users provide the base funding through the utilities, land trusts collaborate on protection plans and secure the land, and private partners like the Caterpillar Foundation help get it all over the finish line.”

The Caterpillar Foundation hopes to both accelerate the program with this new financing and encourage volunteer engagement of their locally-based employees.

“This partnership provides us the opportunity to not only advance an exciting new model for watershed protection, but does so in a community in which many Caterpillar families call home,” said Caterpillar Foundation President Asha Varghese. “We hope the success of initiatives like this can build momentum for new environmental innovation and investment. We believe multi-sectoral collaboration is key to achieving sustainable infrastructure solutions, and ultimately, building resilient communities.”

“There are thousands of community water systems that could benefit from this model to protect and manage natural infrastructure assets,” said Todd Gartner, Director of WRI’s Cities4Forests and Natural Infrastructure Initiatives. “Leading initiatives like this set a new high-water mark for city-led innovation that harnesses nature’s potential to supply clean drinking water, creates recreational opportunities, and boosts resilience.”

The Caterpillar Foundation investment will supplement public and private funds to make possible the acquisition of land in the Upper Neuse watershed. It will protect river and stream frontage that are highly vulnerable to development. In addition to ecosystem services, these natural lands provide important outdoor opportunities for communities to connect with nature. Creating new outdoor recreational opportunities can both stimulate the local economy and boost public health.

In Raleigh, the average water customer pays an additional $0.57 per month, which contributes funds toward the protection of thousands of acres of crucial natural lands through the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative, a program of Raleigh Water. For more information on collaborative watershed protection and restoration efforts spearheaded by public and private partnerships in the Triangle, visit upstreammatters.org.

Round-Up for Resilience

CTNC is excited to launch a NEW way to invest in conservation and resilient communities. We’ve partnered with Harness to help you collect your spare change for a great cause.

Small gifts make a BIG impact!

The Round-Up for Resilience campaign is an easy, stress-free way to make an impact on conservation. With Harness and CTNC, you can set aside your spare change for a monthly donation that will help us conserve more land for climate resilience, racial equity, and community health.

Think about it! If you set aside $0.20 or $0.30 after each credit card transaction, that could add up to real impact by the end of the year. Are you ready to round up for resilience?

Round-Up Your Spare Change

Asheville Greenworks' Dawn Chávez
Asheville Riverside Park

A Dedication to Climate Resilience

Championing climate-resilient conservation to achieve statewide systemic change

“A resilient North Carolina is a state where our communities, economies, and ecosystems are better able to rebound, positively adapt to, and thrive amid changing conditions and challenges, including disasters and climate change; to maintain quality of life, healthy growth, and durable systems; and to conserve resources for present and future generations.”

Executive Summary, North Carolina Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan, June 2020

Addressing North Carolina’s Current Needs

Our state needs to prepare for the challenges our communities face today and tomorrow.  Historically, land protection efforts have been driven by a property’s conservation value scored by biology, geography and hydrology. Today, we must strive to bring additional focus to how people – all North Carolinians – may be impacted by the lands we conserve and how they benefit best from that work.

Our resilience strategy is all about protecting people just like you.

At CTNC, we seek to deliver conservation with this deeper purpose. Our diverse range of expertise in land protection along the Blue Ridge Parkway, our successful young adult service and education programs, and our commitment to advancing race equity in the conservation sector have well-positioned CTNC to respond to the needs of North Carolina communities in innovative and holistic ways. 

Guided by our values, CTNC’s staff and board have adopted a holistic approach to land conservation. Alongside our community partners, CTNC seeks to understand people’s relationship with land so we can better understand how conservation can support better outcomes related to public health, economic development, access to recreation and healthy foods, and building communities resilient to the impacts of climate change.”

-Chris Canfield, CTNC Executive Director

A strategy that’s catching on

A community-led approach to conservation is emerging in the state. The recently released North Carolina Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan – which CTNC contributed to – emphasizes the need for a holistic approach to statewide resilience. This plan provides CTNC and our partners with shared, foundational goals we can build on.

The report states that “immediate focus must be on developing strategic priorities for public and natural infrastructure improvements as well as actions that integrate climate resiliency into agency operations, local disaster recovery programs, and long-term planning.”

Our resilience work is inspiring a new approach to conservation

CTNC is well equipped to deliver on that focus: we have already begun to work with community partners to develop a long-term resilience plan in Princeville and look forward to modeling this approach across the state.

Embracing equity as a guiding priority for our work, we’re inspired to see North Carolina leadership acknowledge the need to build capacity among our most marginalized communities. That emphasis is key to seeding systemic change toward greater resilience. Our state now has the opportunity, and the responsibility, to adopt policies that promote statewide resilience for the health of our land and all our people.

A close-up on the strategy in action

CTNC’s holistic resilience strategy is already taking shape.

Using a variety of resources, we will assist the Princeville community to build a more resilient future

With the help of amazing community partners, the expertise of the NC State’s Coastal Dynamics Design Lab, and the trust of the Princeville citizens, we are completing the Floodprint this fall. This detailed plan shows how smart conservation and landscape planning can help the town survive future floods while building a vibrant economy that preserves and celebrates Princeville’s proud history. 

But a plan is only as good as the action it guides. CTNC is now launching on-the-ground action to begin a first phase of work outlined in the Floodprint.

We are collaborating with partners to build water-absorbing, green infrastructure around the Princeville Elementary School. The school building, at the hub of the community, has been recently renovated and flood-proofed. CTNC’s project adds rain gardens, bio-swales, and other natural approaches to water management on the expansive school grounds. A Conservation Corps North Carolina crew will do much of the work, including building an educational trail for public use. A CTNC AmeriCorps service member will help develop an environmental education curriculum in partnership with students and faculty.

We are documenting our steps during this process to learn from, improve our work, and share lessons toward developing a statewide, community-based model for building resilience.

These are only the beginning steps in a multilayered and multiyear partnership. We know that achieving resilience will be an ongoing, challenging mission, but we are excited – and hopeful – that you will join us to help build a resilient, more just North Carolina.

Princeville continues to struggle with flooding from the Tar River.

Learn more about our Princeville Collaborative by joining our email list. You’ll receive updates as we launch new projects with the Town and other communities throughout the state.

Mapping Black History and Heritage in North Carolina

NC African American Heritage Commission and CTNC: A partnership built on cultural preservation and land conservation 

North Carolina’s Black history and culture is rich and diverse; broad and deep. We have a responsibility to know, celebrate, and protect sites of cultural significance — and the stories and memories that they carry — to gain a greater understanding of the realities of the African American Experience in North Carolina.

Conservation Trust has partnered with the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission to celebrate our state’s rich history by educating North Carolinians and conservation advocates of the significant places and spaces across our state. Explore this digital map to learn more about the diversity of the African American Experience in North Carolina.

The African American Heritage & Culture of North Carolina Digital Asset Map identifies locations of significant natural and cultural value to Black and African American people across North Carolina’s history.

*Click the double arrows in the top left-hand corner to view a legend and reveal more locations*

By better understanding their mutual interests, cultural preservation and land conservation organizations can work more diligently to build relationships and collaboration efforts that meet shared goals, and benefit diverse communities across the state. North Carolina lands hold a deeply-rooted history of African American and Black experiences dating back centuries. Throughout our 100 counties, our land holds the stories of significant African American heritage sites along the Underground Railroad to the Civil Rights Movement, once-segregated parks and beaches, Rosenwald School sites, and much more.

Our history is directly tied to land and people’s relationship to land.

A partnership between Conservation Trust and the African American Heritage Commission (AAHC) is a natural evolution of our organization’s commitment to equity and inclusion throughout the conservation sector.

CTNC and AAHC have collaborated on projects for several years to educate advocates and supporters to the importance of our shared goals for land preservation and conservation. In order to effectively conserve land for community benefits, we must understand how people’s relationship with these places have been formed over time.

This map can be used as a tool for people across the state to elevate our awareness of rich African American heritage and culture. The map will also serve to help cultural preservation and land conservation organizations better visualize the connections between African American cultural assets and natural resource values of land.

An Iterative and Collaborative Process

Through this map, we hope North Carolinians can explore their own understanding of land and culture and learn about new experiences they never knew.

We also acknowledge that this map is not complete. If you know of a significant African American cultural site that should be included, please contact us. We empower our network to help make this tool a robust resource to all North Carolinians so we can expand our collective knowledge of our past. By learning about the connection between people, place, and cultural histories, we can all do our part to make land conservation more equitable and inclusive in an effort to achieve a more resilient North Carolina.


Land connects us all and every person should share in the benefits of healthy lands regardless of race. Learn more about CTNC’s priority to advance equity throughout the conservation sector.

AmeriCorps Spotlight: Kelsi Dew

Edgecombe County native works to discover and preserve lost history of Princeville

Born and raised in Edgecombe County, Kelsi Dew enrolled in Appalachian State’s Anthropology program to seek a different experience from her Eastern North Carolina childhood. But now, Kelsi has returned to her roots and can’t imagine ever leaving her home.

Kelsi’s passion for Eastern North Carolina history from 1850-1900 and the Reconstruction Period called her back to Princeville where she now helps to shape the community’s resilient future as an AmeriCorps member through CTNC.  

“I want to understand where I came from and why things are the way they are. Princeville is too important to not care about, locally and nationally. It’s a historical gem. I hope more people can care and understand, visit and experience, and ultimately respect what Princeville is.”

Kelsi Dew, AmeriCorps Member
Princeville Town Manager, Dr. Knight (left), and Kelsi (right) at the Princeville Temporary Town Hall 

Under the supervision of Princeville town manager, Dr. Glenda Knight, Kelsi is now an integral member of the Princeville team. Kelsi is actively building a record of Princeville’s history and heritage to be put on display in the Town’s Mobile Museum and permanent museum that is currently being restored from damage inflicted by Hurricane Matthew.

Repetitive flooding makes it difficult to fully document Princeville’s history.

Princeville has a long and often tumultuous history with hurricanes, flooding, climate change, and other environmental impacts. As the first town in the U.S. incorporated by African Americans and established by freed slaves, Princeville is also rich in heritage and cultural significance. But the town, built on swampland in the basin of the Tar River, faces threat of erasure as the community is caught on a loop of flooding, recovery, and rebuilding.

Despite the flooding and the hardships faced by the people of Eastern North Carolina, Princeville embodies a story of resilience. Land conservation and cultural heritage directly weave into Kelsi’s work because this land has an inspiring story to tell.

Looking ahead to a bright future.

“Even though the town still floods, it rebuilds. The people are what make Princeville resilient. We may have lost physical structures after each storm, but the town and its people are still here.”

Kelsi is an integral part of Princeville’s community that works to build a resilient town

Kelsi is filled with hope about what is ahead for the citizens of Princeville. Her work on behalf of the Town is bridging the past, present and future. She is part of a collaborative effort among dozens of organizations, government agencies, and town residents, working toward a shared goal of revitalizing Princeville with a commitment to sustainability and resilience. This shared vision has brought together many projects and partners in the Town of Princeville, local businesses and residents, and outside organizations like CTNC, The Conservation Fund, and NC State’s Coastal Dynamics Design Lab.

Over the next year, the residents will have better resources to tell the story of the union liberation of African American people following the Civil War, the once thriving agriculture economy, and the foundation of resilience that built this community. A Farmer’s Market is in development at Heritage Park that will offer a central community hub for Princeville’s budding agriculture economy. The Floodprint by NC State Coastal Dynamics Design Lab will provide additional guidance on how Princeville can develop its historic core in ways that can withstand future flood events while continuing this transformation into a vibrant destination for Eastern North Carolina.

“There is so much positive energy here.”

Kelsi has made Princeville her home. She met her fiance here and intends to raise her own children here. She will continue to explore all that Princeville has to offer even as her AmeriCorps service concludes.

Kelsi says her next steps are not only to continue her research, but to figure out ways to share the stories she’s uncovered. She wants to find ways to present history in a way that celebrates the Town because Princeville deserves to be celebrated for its history, culture, tourism, and conservation efforts.

Kelsi on a visit to Shiloh Landing, located right outside of Princeville

CTNC is embarking on many collaborative partnerships to support the Town of Princeville and their quest to achieve resilience. Read about our partnership to develop a Floodprint that will guide the Town’s conservation and resilient recovery efforts.

Asheville Watershed

Virtual Conservation Celebration – Purchase tickets and win prizes!

Join us for a Virtual Conservation Celebration Thursday, August 20.

REGISTER & START YOUR BIDDING NOW!

AmeriCorps Spotlight: Stephen Peters

How service and community work drives this future stormwater planning leader

North Carolinians are all too familiar with the damage of stormwater as we face severe flooding with worsening hurricane seasons annually. This stormwater floods towns and cities all over the state, damaging infrastructure and polluting clean water sources. Stormwater planning will directly contribute to a more resilient North Carolina for years to come.

These are the issues Stephen Peters explored during his 10-month AmeriCorps service term as he worked directly with the Kernersville community to provide stormwater education.

Stephen giving a presentation about stormwater planning!

As a native of  Kill Devil Hills in the Outer Banks, Stephen is familiar with the coastal environment of NC and the impact of storms on towns. He has first-hand experience witnessing how stormwater can damage a community. After graduating from Wake Forest University in 2020, Stephen was trying to figure out how he could combine his degrees in biology and environmental studies with his goal to serve. As a second lieutenant in the army reserves and a longtime volunteer, Stephen wanted to make sure his next steps were service-oriented. That’s where AmeriCorps came in.

“Service has always been important to me,” Stephen said. “This was another way for me to serve my community and state.”

Stephen holding a snake during a community outreach event.

Stephen provided stormwater education while serving with Stormwater SMART, a cooperative partnership between county and municipal governments to provide outreach programs educating about stormwater pollution, clean water, and water conservation. The Kernsville community is not unfamiliar with the impacts of stormwater. In 2018, the Kernersville citizens dealt with substantial flooding and damage from Tropical Storm Michael, and the local residents too often witness overflowing creeks with every downpour.

Kernsville was a town that needed the help of Stephen and the rest of the Stormwater SMART team who put together programs to mitigate the ongoing flooding issues. This task has even inspired Stephen, who was moved by his ability to help a rural community, build for a resilient future.

Stephen said AmeriCorps helped get him connected with a mentor, Danica Heflin, who coordinated environmental programs for Stormwater SMART, and helped him discover his passion for stormwater education. Now, Stephen is sure he wants to pursue a masters degree and eventually work for a local government focused on smartwater planning. He’s dedicated to engaging with rural communities and inspiring stewardship for their own environments.

In addition to educating elementary, middle, and high school science and environmental classes about water pollution, Stephen was involved with:

  • Planning Alamance Creek Week
  • Creating educational videos when schools moved online
  • Leading projects on I-Naturalist

“It was an eye-opening experience to get out in the community and teach people of all ages about how stormwater is impacting them every year,” Stephen said. “I really felt included in the community and felt inspired by their interest to continue this work. Stormwater will continue to damage towns all over NC, but hopefully I can begin to help residents build for a better future through my work.”

Stephen is still planning his next steps, but there are two big plans on his radar: completing his basic training camp as a second lieutenant in the army reserves and going back to school.

Stephen teaching elementary students about the Haw River!

“I really appreciate that Americorps, as an organization, focuses on the members and getting their own professional development,” he said. “It’s cool because you can take that time to work on yourself and develop yourself as a professional. It was definitely an incredible experience.”

AmeriCorps Spotlight: Katie Sullivan

Wetland monitoring to COVID-19 Disaster Response, AmeriCorps members can do it all

As COVID-19 uprooted lives all across the country, our own North Carolina communities were greatly impacted. All of us are proud to say that a group of brave AmeriCorps members responded to the call to serve during a time of great struggle. Members like Katie Sullivan helped connect food-insecure North Carolinians to her community’s local food bank as part of CTNC’s AmeriCorps Disaster Response efforts.

When Katie first joined AmeriCorps — a ten-month national service program designed to support environmental education, stewardship, and outreach to connect conservation organizations with local communities — she was not expecting to find herself working at a food bank packaging thousands of potatoes for the Wilmington citizens.

Katie serving with Storm Surge Protectors!

When Katie began her service, she worked with Storm Surge Protectors, a UNCW MarineQuest citizen-science project whose aim is to collect data to study the ecological condition of coastal wetlands. Katie worked in wetlands across Wilmington to monitor vegetation for seasonal changes and impacts of storms. Katie was invested in sharing wetland education at community events in the area to share the importance of this ecosystem on NC coasts and studying hurricane mitigation work while in the field.

But when COVID-19 spread across the state and citizens of Wilmington were laid off or furloughed at rapid rates, Katie was remobilized and began taking action to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. Despite the risk of exposure, Katie jumped at the opportunity to continue serving her community. 

“It’s been a great way to connect with the community again in a different way, in a different setting and show what AmeriCorps members are. It’s been a great experience at both ends. As much as I miss the field, I love going to the food bank, too.”

Katie Sullivan
Katie and Audrey packing food in Wilmington

Through working at the community food bank and packaging meals for distribution, Katie has been able to help mitigate the economic impact the pandemic has had on so many Wilmington residents. She has since been able to continue field work, while also volunteering at the food bank, to balance her two passions.

“I don’t know if I could really tell you what service meant before this. I’m learning what it means to step up in a community, and rally and engage with people.”

Katie said she has become so immersed in the Wilmington community that she is soon starting her master’s degree in environmental studies at UNC Wilmington to continue her research of NC wetlands. She plans to remain in the state for years to come to take advantage of the opportunities for environmental education and to continue her work connecting the public with coastal science.

“Connecting people to the outdoors and making sure that land is available to make those connections, the work CTNC is doing to ensure that is huge. We need tons of greenspace. That was what was super important to me. I want places for people to develop their own love for the coast.”

Katie having fun with other CTNC AmeriCorps service members!

If you’re inspired by Katie’s experience with AmeriCorps, meet another member, Tamarya, who served her community through the Durham Hub Farm!

Wilmington

Do your part to recreate responsibly!

As NC reopens, you can be a good steward to your local natural spaces

For months, North Carolinians have become familiar with staying home and staying inside as we navigated through the novel coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic impacted nearly every aspect of our lives and things are still changing on a weekly, or even daily, basis. This has caused a great deal of uncertainty as to how nature lovers can get back to their favorite natural spaces. As parks, trails, and forests begin to reopen, you may be confused as to how to navigate this “new normal” in the outdoors. 

As our state reopens the parks and natural spaces to greater recreation opportunities, how do we get back outside safely and responsibly?

A Short Checklist To Get Outside Safely

To help with these important questions, the #RecreateResponsibly Coalition has created a series of guidelines to help us all get outdoors safely.

While these steps may sound easy enough, some of the most beloved parkways in NC, including the Blue Ridge Parkway, are having extreme difficulties keeping the trails clean and visitor’s safely distant from one another. Overcrowding and visitors’ lack of preparation is hindering parks’ staff within our National to State and Local Parks from operating efficiently and maintaining a safe recreation environment for all North Carolinians. 

RECREATE RESPONSIBLY

  • Leave No Trace – Whatever you pack with you, take it back! Don’t leave behind trash on the beautiful parkway.
  • Know before you go – don’t be shocked by unexpected closures. Visit the Blue Ridge Parkway website to learn about road and facility closures to plan your visit ahead of time. 
  • Physical Distance – Find trailheads and overlooks that are not being overutilized. Go off the beaten path and explore their trail page to plan hikes to lesser known areas.
  • GO before you go – all restrooms and visitor centers will not be open until late in the summer. You get the idea…

These are manageable steps for creating a return to nature that is safe and accessible for every park-goer. We have a shared responsibility to care for these places and ensure they remain for future generations to enjoy.

We know everyone is eager to get back outside. So are we. But all North Carolinians must step up to play a role in keeping ourselves, and the trails we love, safe, resilient, and healthy.

Know before you go! Research campsites and trails that are less populated to enjoy a secluded summer experience.

Do your part to recreate responsibly.

AmeriCorps Spotlight: Tamarya Sims

Race equity and sustainable agriculture inspire this rising leader

After studying environmental studies, ecology and field biology with a focus in plant ecology at UNC Asheville, Tamarya Sims was encouraged to join AmeriCorps through the Durham Public Schools Hub Farm. She primarily focused on environmental and garden education, and field work, all while developing a passion for teaching. 

Tamarya heard a lot about AmeriCorps during her undergraduate years and was drawn in by the program’s commitment to building just communities and race equity.

“I feel like service is what I think my degree is about. Environmentalism is about service and it only makes sense to do Americorps. I knew I wanted to build connections and listen and learn and support the community.”

– Tamarya Sims
Tamarya collecting eggs!

Tamarya’s  hands-on work in Durham has embodied what it means to build a resilient, just community through sustainable agriculture and community outreach. She said one of the most important developments that came out of this program was her realization that her passion is not just within the environmental realm, but that she specifically wants to teach people, especially people of color, how to grow food sustainably by owning her own farm.

Tamarya’s deep interest for food justice and sustainable agriculture and horticulture developed while being in a community of people that looked like her. Being from Conover and going to school in Asheville for environmental studies, Tamarya was often the only Black person in her classes. There was often a difficulty to connect because no one was familiar with her lived experiences, but coming into the Durham education community was a brand new experience for her.

“This was the first time I was around students who looked like me and seeing teachers who looked like me.”

She said it was eye opening and showed her that she feels empowered to do more work to break barriers between people of color and the outdoors.

Tamarya teaching a group of elementary age students about sustainable ag!

Tamarya said she was often uncomfortable in social spaces where she was the only person of color, but she is passionate about being a role model for Black youths and young people of color to be encouraged to get into environmentalism and not be scared to pursue careers in environmentalism. She wants them to know there is a space for them within this field. 

Tamarya said AmeriCorps service was so helpful to realize her professional goals and calling to teach. 

Tamarya says that “growing food is a weapon” and after completing her AmeriCorps service term, she aims to break down barriers between the Black community in North Carolina and nature. All of us here at CTNC cannot wait to see the work she accomplishes as a rising leader in our state. 

Congratulations to Tamarya for all of her amazing work!

CTNC’s service programs allow us to provide capacity and support to resilient community partners throughout the state. To learn more about CTNC’s AmeriCorps service program or apply for an open position, click here.

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