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Turning the tide for flood-prone communities

Photo: NC State Coastal Dynamics Design Lab arial view of the Tar River.

There is even more great news about the Princeville – Seeding Resilience project! 2022 brings many exciting actions to protect this community from the changing climate.

Since the debut of our latest video, this story has captured the attention of conservation champions nationwide. The project was featured in:

As we conclude the first phase of executing recommendations outlined in the Princeville Floodprint, the collaboration is turning our attention to Phase II. This phase will further lay the groundwork toward establishing an effective model of community-driven climate change adaptation that can be replicated in communities across the state. Throughout North Carolina, rural communities established along rivers, the coast, and lakes face repeated flood events. With the increasing threat of climate change, more communities will experience these impacts.

Phase II focuses attention toward converting vacant and underutilized land.
The Town of Princeville, North Carolina State University Coastal Dynamics Design Lab, Conservation Corps NC, and Temboo Software will work to complete another round of conservation projects designed to better manage flood and stormwater, establish recreation opportunities for residents, build a model community garden to support locally-grown food operations, and connect youth and adults to environmental education opportunities. This phase focuses on transforming underutilized town-owned lots and property that FEMA has determined to be at risk of future flooding into absorbing flood impact while making them usable spaces for the community.

Over the next two years, this partnership will work to complete:

  • Installation of 6,000 square feet of rain gardens and managed wetlands on vacated lots to hold up to 28,000 gallons of water per rain event
  • Opening of a 24-bed model community garden on vacated lots to promote local, low-carbon agriculture
  • Planting of trees and native plants for 250,000 gallons of water absorption and 2,900 pounds of carbon storage per year
  • Creation of trails with educational and health-benefit elements at Princeville’s riverfront Heritage Park

“Our town has already seen the rewards from our collaboration with Conservation Trust, NC State, and all our partners,” said Princeville Town Manager Dr. Glenda Lawrence-Knight. “This next phase will only further prepare our town for the next flooding incident while showing a true investment in the health and well-being of our citizens.”

This is possible in part to a grant from the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, supported by the EPA, called EJ4Climate: Environmental Justice and Climate Resilience. This new grant program addresses environmental inequality and promotes community-level innovation and climate adaptation. CTNC was one of 15 projects across three countries to receive a grant award through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, a tri-national effort to promote and facilitate sustainable development in North America.

In tandem with the on-the-ground work, CTNC and our partners are writing an effective model for building a resilient community. We hope this community-based model can be replicated to benefit others facing similar challenges.

“Communities across North Carolina will benefit from the lessons learned as a result of the partnerships and outcomes in Princeville,” said Andrew Fox, FASLA, PLA of NC State Coastal Dynamics Design Lab. “It’s exciting to see people benefit from the principles that we’ve studied and developed.”

Your support fuels all this work. Together, we can turn the tide for flood-prone communities, and you are the first line of defense.

This work will be carried out with financial support from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, the Anonymous Trust, and generous donors who have made an investment in resilience through CTNC and our partners.

A Story of Community Resilience

This article originally appeared in Saving Land Magazine.

During the summer, staff of the accredited Conservation Trust for North Carolina visited the small town of Princeville that has been repeatedly devastated by floodwaters. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd caused the Tar River to rise and the town was submerged. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew brought heavy flooding again. Princeville has yet to recover from either catastrophe.

This story is similar to the plight of many towns in North Carolina and across the country. Princeville is unique, though, in being the oldest town incorporated by African Americans in the nation. They were given few options for land on which to settle after emancipation. Since 1885, the people of Princeville have weathered many storms, and not just meteorological ones. Their resilience is deep, yet its limits are strained.

The town lies at the intersection of three issues that have been growing in urgency for CTNC: climate, community and equity.

Every piece of land we hope to protect is being affected by a more volatile climate. Not just hurricanes, as in Princeville, but also droughts, fires, infestations and other extremes. We have already incorporated climate resilience models into our planning. We must go further. Land conservation can help  with the rising climate crisis by storing carbon to reduce long-term effects and by providing increased natural resilience to inevitable changes.

We are inspired by the many land trusts who already make innovative connections between community needs and conservation. We commit ourselves to leading with questions before answers, and to working alongside neighbors often given no voice in decisions affecting them. The process of building trust will take years of work and lots of humility.

Humility also requires us to admit the limitations of conservation. Our system of land ownership and use has too often excluded and disregarded entire communities of people. Again, Princeville is symbolic. Our work must honor the stories of black, indigenous and other people of color who have felt the loss of access to productive land for living, farming and for preserving their heritage. Land is at the core of racial and other inequities. We must ensure that we don’t worsen those realities and ultimately help change the system for the better.

Our staff and board embrace this new strategic vision. It builds on CTNC’s history of bringing together uncommon alliances. Our goal is to conserve land in ways that inspire and enable people to build resilient, just communities. Led by our values, we will continuously learn, share, admit and care.

Many of our plans are new and yet to be verified. So we’ve entered our experiment mindful that it will often be more about how  we work than what  we do.

History dictated that Princeville be in the floodplain of a river. We can’t change history. But, using the power of community and conservation together, we can change the future.

Chris Canfield is the Executive Director of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. Jamilla Hawkins is Chair of CTNC’s Board of Directors.

Asheville Riverside Park

An Equitable Vision for Conservation

CTNC strives to seed equity and inclusion throughout the conservation community 

We’re born on the land. Eat food grown in it.  Drink water that flows over it. Build our communities within its hills, valleys, plains and rivers. There’s not a single aspect of our lives that’s not touched by land.

While land connects us all, it has also been used historically to separate us. Entire communities of people – especially people of color – have been intentionally displaced and excluded. That shared history of inequity means that collectively our conservation work does not benefit all people as we intend it to. 

If CTNC is to be successful building resilient, just communities, we must emphasize how racial equity can be seeded throughout our work.

From Diversity to Equity

For over a decade, we have focused on increasing the racial diversity within the conservation sector of North Carolina through the Diversity In Conservation Internship Program. The program was founded to create a pathway for rising leaders of color to find careers in conservation. Our work has not only connected many young people of color with a professional conservation network, it has also helped organizations understand their own role in promoting race equity in their culture and practice. 

“It’s really important for us to build these connections for youth of color in conservation because there isn’t a network like there is for other populations in conservation.”

Dawn Chávez, Asheville GreenWorks 

We all benefit from greater inclusion. 

While CTNC is proud of the strides made over the past decade, our collective history and the current state of conservation indicate that there’s still so much to be done. Our work must not only create pathways to employment for rising leaders of color, but also change our culture and practices. We must honor the stories of black, indigenous and other people of color who have felt the loss of access to productive land for living, farming and for preserving their heritage. 

CTNC understands that the historical legacy of conservation must be acknowledged in order to build more resilient, equitable communities for the future.

The stakes are high.

A conservation movement powered by people must include all people, not just those who have traditionally been seated at the head of the table. That’s why CTNC is committed to promoting equity through our work. Our vision is for all communities, regardless of race or economic status, to have a seat at the table.

Conserving land can be one facet of a larger effort to protect the stories, natural, and cultural heritage of historically marginalized communities across the state. 

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