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N.C. Budget is a Huge Win for Conservation

The 2021 budget for North Carolina has been passed with bipartisan support by the NC legislature, and officially signed by Governor Cooper, in a huge win for conservation. This legislation will substantially increase funding for land acquisition projects; major investments in parks, trails, and open space statewide; and new investments to advance resilience planning and floodplain protections that will help communities facing the impacts of climate change.

With a total of nearly $200 million for resilience and more than $300 million for conservation projects, this is the greatest investment in conserving North Carolina communities since before the Great Recession in the late 2000s.

What Does This Mean for Our Work?
Since 2018, CTNC has been a leader among conservation groups across the state dedicated to achieving special funding for a statewide resilience planning initiative. In partnership with our colleagues at Environmental Defense Fund, NC Conservation Network, The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund and many others, we collectively have brought models from other states and our own examples of working with communities to make the case for funding these critical projects. Collaborative partnerships and bipartisan support, like that fostered by the Land for Tomorrow Coalition, ensure we all move conservation forward in ways that benefit communities.

Through this funding and the other resources it will attract, we hope to collaborate with additional
partners to:

  • Provide resources and funding to local governments to create resilient strategies to protect their communities.
  • Assist every small community across the state in creating flood plans, and with funding to implement. We are already a key advisor to the state on a resilience handbook for communities.
  • Create jobs in rural communities to restore and build natural infrastructure and other adaptive measures to reduce flood risk.
  • Prioritize economic investment in local communities, so they thrive.

The 2021 State Budget includes:

Land and Water Fund
This is the primary source of grants allowing hundreds of local governments, state agencies, and conservation nonprofits to protect clean water and conserve ecologically, culturally, or historically significant lands. This investment will directly benefit acquisitions and easements sought along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

  • $49.5 million new revenue in FY21-22 and $51.5 million new revenue in FY22-23
  • $15 million in FY21-22 specifically for projects to protect & restore floodplains to reduce flood risk

Parks and Recreation Trust Fund
This fund supports land acquisition and improvements within the State’s park system. PARTF is the main funding source for local parkland acquisitions, facility improvements, and public beach and estuarine access.

  • $45.5 million new revenue in FY21-22 and $45.5 million new revenue in FY22-23
  • $10 million new revenue in FY21-22 specifically for local parks projects to increase access for persons with disabilities

Additional Funding for Community Resilience
In recognition of North Carolina’s continued and increasing exposure to the impacts of climate change — particularly storms and flooding — this funding launches a new critical level of statewide planning and investment to support the resilience of our communities.

  • Nearly $200 million in resilience investments to reduce the risk of catastrophic flooding.

Other Highlights

  • $40 million for a Coastal Storm Damage Mitigation Fund
  • $25 million for a Small Project Mitigation and Recovery Program
  • $20 million to create a “statewide Flood Resiliency Blueprint”
  • $15 million to the Land and Water Fund for floodplain projects
  • $15 million for a Disaster Relief and Mitigation Fund
  • $15 million for a Transportation Infrastructure Resilience Fund
  • $4 million for a Dam Safety Emergency Fund
  • $3.5 million for floodplain pilot projects
  • $1.15 million to the Resilient Coastal Communities Program

TAKE ACTION
We’ve thanked legislators for these sweeping investments in conservation, but they want to hear from you, the people they represent. Join us by sending a short thank-you note to your local lawmakers for investing in our state.

Americorps

CTNC AmeriCorps Members Gather Hundreds for MLK Day of Service

Each year, CTNC AmeriCorps members join a nationwide movement to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by participating in the annual Day of Service. In partnership with six host organizations in western North Carolina, the Triangle and coastal region, CTNC’s AmeriCorps members organized events that drew hundreds of volunteers to spend time outside and contribute to conservation projects in their local community.

Scroll down to see photos from each of the events where staff, AmeriCorps members and volunteers cleaned up a public nature preserve, collected oyster shells for a living reef installation, reforested open fields to revitalize habitat for wildlife and much more.

Anne Maxwell Ellett
Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association

Eighty people attended a clean-up event organized by Anne Maxwell to support stewardship of Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association’s Beaver Creek Marsh Preserve. The group worked on clearing invasive species (ivy and privet), collected multiple truck-loads of trash, and mended fences. More CTNC AmeriCorps members joined Anne Maxwell for the event including Emily Goetz, Bald Head Island Conservancy; Ashley Meredith, Durham Hub Farm; Joy-Lynn Rhoton, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust; Kate Conery, NC Coastal Foundation; Reilly Kelly, NC Coastal Foundation; Lauren Huffstetler, Piedmont Triad Regional Council; Kayla Kohlmann, Piedmont Triad Regional Council; Molly Richard, Triangle Land Conservancy; Jade Woll, NC Coastal Land Trust.

Click here to see photos!

Kristin Gibson
North Carolina Coastal Federation

In partnership with Leadership Carteret, AmeriCorps member Kristin Gibson organized an event for 12 students to bag oyster shells. The effort totaled 200 bags that will help construct a living oyster reef. Volunteers were so dedicated, they stayed longer than necessary to get all the work done!

April Hausle
North Carolina Arboretum

AmeriCorps member April Hausle participated in a workday at Shiloh Community Garden in Asheville. Residents of the historically black community added mulch to the garden and completed a social justice art project where children cut out magazine photos to design a mural of the United States. Michelle Durr, who is serving at Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, also attended.

Jannette Morris
Eno River Association

An old farm field along the Eno River will be restored to its natural habitat after 100 volunteers gathered to plan 200 hardwood trees. Jannette Morris organized the tree-planting, which will contribute to cleaner water flowing from the Eno River into Falls Lake, the main drinking water source for Raleigh and eight other reservoirs.

Click here to see photos!

Bethany Sheffer
Balsam Mountain Trust

Representing CTNC AmeriCorps, Bethany Sheffer volunteered with Conserving Carolina’s Project Conserve members at Asheville’s Burton Street Community Peace Gardens. The event was led by DeWayne Barton, founder of Hood Huggers International, which offers sustainable strategies for building support pillars for resilient historically African American neighborhoods, providing a framework for community capacity building while increasing the effectiveness of existing service programs. The Burton Street Peace Gardens is a sanctuary for positive action, designed to create neighborhood food security, community cohesion and a vibrant, sustainable local economy.

Click here to see photos!

Jonathan Hill, Keep Durham Beautiful

In partnership with Duke Roundtable, a Duke University student service group, Jonathan Hill organized a litter clean-up recruiting 100 volunteers to participate in the Keep Durham Beautiful event.

Click here to see photos!

Dawn Keyser
Keep Durham Beautiful

AmeriCorps member Dawn Keyser organized two tree plantings that put 120 trees in the ground. Many of the 70 participants were students of the School of Science and Math and Emily K. Center volunteers.

Click here to see photos!

CTNC AmeriCorps is a 10-month national service program in environmental education and outreach. This program, along with CTNC’s N.C. Youth Conservation Corps and the Diversity in Conservation Internship Program are part of CTNC’s Emerging Leaders Program, which seeks to reconnect people with the outdoors and to develop future leaders in conservation. AmeriCorps members develop service projects that help remove barriers to environmental education throughout North Carolina, as well as help expand the diversity of backgrounds among conservation leaders in our state.

1,000-Acre Conservation Project Promises Clean Water and Pristine Parkway Views

Wildacres Retreat, a 1,076-acre property adjacent to Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway, is now permanently protected thanks to a collaborative partnership among Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC), and Wildacres Retreat.

Wildacres Retreat, located in northern McDowell County near Little Switzerland, is a nonprofit conference center governed by a board of directors. The center offers its facilities and surrounding woodlands to nonprofit groups for educational and cultural programming, and for board and staff retreats.

The property is protected under two conservation easements. A state-held Clean Water Management Trust Fund easement will protect stream buffers and critical natural heritage areas, while a second easement held by Conservation Trust for North Carolina will preserve a key portion of forested lands connected to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest. Together, the easements will safeguard wildlife habitat and protect water quality in five miles of streams of the Armstrong Creek watershed in the headwaters of the Catawba River.  Foothills Conservancy will monitor and steward these conservation easements on a contractual basis.

“Protection of these lands fills in a very important piece of the puzzle to permanently conserve extensive forests and habitats in the very high-quality Armstrong Creek watershed of the Catawba,” said Tom Kenney, Land Protection Director for Foothills Conservancy. “Wildacres adjoins a Wildlife Resources Commission fish hatchery and more than 10,000 acres of federal Pisgah National Forest Service lands. All this conservation helps ensure Lake James has a very clean water supply protection source.”

There are nearly six miles of hiking trails on the property for public use, including one trail into the property from Deer Lick Gap Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The project was primarily funded by a $1 million grant from North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund awarded to Foothills Conservancy and a $26,000 donation from Philip Blumenthal, director of Wildacres Retreat. In addition, CTNC secured a Duke Water Resources grant, $50,000 grant from the Cannon Foundation, a $100,000 grant from the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office Environmental Enhancement Grant Program, and $177,240 from the Open Space Institute’s Resilient Landscapes Initiative, which is made possible with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The Resilient Landscapes Initiative seeks to build the capacity of land trusts working to respond to climate change. A grant of $34,779 from the Duke Energy Water Resources Fund, administered by the NC Community Foundation enabled CTNC to pay off a loan secured to purchase the easements.

Clean Water Management Trust Fund Executive Director Walter Clark described the organization’s reasons for contributing to the project to conserve what he calls an “incredible piece of property.”

“The Clean Water Management Trust Fund supported the Wildacres project for multiple reasons, including its protection of five miles of high-quality trout waters, which contain headwater streams in the Catawba River Basin,” said Clark. “The project also protects multiple forest communities important to North Carolina’s natural heritage.” Since its establishment in 1996, Clean Water Management Trust Fund has protected over 500,000 acres, including 2,500 miles of streams.

“The Wildacres Retreat property has been among CTNC and Foothills Conservancy’s highest priority projects for years,” said Rusty Painter, CTNC Land Protection Director. “Conserving its ecologically diverse habitat between the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest achieves the type of landscape-scale conservation that’s one goal of our Blue Ridge Parkway conservation plan. Successes like this would not be possible without the commitment of champions like Philip Blumenthal and the Wildacres Retreat Board of Directors.”

Blumenthal added, “It’s been a long-term goal of the Blumenthal family to ensure the ecological integrity of this unique property for the benefit of Wildacres Retreat visitors and all who enjoy the Blue Ridge Parkway. We’re fortunate to have land trusts like CTNC and Foothills Conservancy who work tirelessly to save places we all love in North Carolina. They ensure our state’s most valuable assets will be protected forever.”

“Permanent conservation of the Wildacres property marks a major milestone for the protection of habitat in North Carolina,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s Executive Vice President of Conservation Capital & Research Programs. “As the climate changes, this highly resilient property will provide a long-term haven for sensitive plants and animals. The Open Space Institute is proud to have supported this project and we applaud Conservation Trust for North Carolina and the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina for their collaboration and tireless work to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Federally-protected land in this region is fragmented and thousands of acres are still vulnerable to development. Western North Carolina land trusts frequently partner to preserve National Forest and Blue Ridge Parkway lands for the benefit of all North Carolinians.

For more information, contact:

Tom Kenney, Land Protection Director, Ph: 828-437-9930, tkenney@foothillsconservancy.org

Mary Alice Holley, CTNC Communications Director, Ph: 919-864-0428, mholley@ctnc.org

See what others are saying!

30 Acres Protected Along Parkway and Mountains-to-Sea Trail

Last week, the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC) purchased a 30-acre property along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Watauga County. The Elk Mountain tract shares a quarter-mile boundary with the Blue Ridge Parkway. Because of the close proximity to the Parkway, the Elk Mountain tract is a high priority for acquisition by the National Park Service.

Portions of the property are visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 274, just off Highway 421 near Deep Gap. Conservation of this tract complements CTNC’s recent protection of an 86-acre property, just across the Parkway below Elk Mountain Overlook. The conserved forest region protects water quality in a tributary of Gap Creek, and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail passes within feet of this property, ensuring a more desirable experience for hikers.

CTNC is working with Blue Ridge Conservancy to donate this land to the National Park Service for inclusion in the Parkway’s official boundary. The addition of the Elk Mountain property to the Parkway will help increase the connectivity of protected lands in the area to preserve the natural corridor and scenic vistas. Conserving land along the Blue Ridge Parkway also enhances the landscape’s resilience to our changing climate by providing protected places where ecological diversity can resist damage and recover quickly.

“Protection of properties like this contributes to the integrity of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which attracts millions of visitors to the High Country each year,” said Margaret Newbold, CTNC Interim Executive Director. “The addition of the Elk Mountain property also enhances the experience of hikers along this section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail near Boone and Blowing Rock.”

“My concern for preservation dates back a number of years as a member of a local preservation task force, hoping that others would be able to experience the beauty and joy of the world, especially being on the Parkway,” said property owner Bill Asti. “Working with the National Park Service, I learned so much about preserving the surrounding environment and in particular the ‘visual watershed’ as an integral component of conveying the history of places and events. Conserving more land is so important to the future of our country.”

The Conservation Trust for North Carolina has now conserved 63 properties on the Blue Ridge Parkway, totaling 33,166 acres. Blue Ridge Conservancy has conserved 221 properties in Allegheny, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes, and Yancey Counties, totaling 20,008 acres. The New River Conservancy, based in West Jefferson, also conserves land in Watauga County. For more information on Blue Ridge Parkway land protection efforts visit www.protecttheblueridgeparkway.org.

 

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