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Sharing NC Conservation Wins at Rally

Alongside our partners in Princeville, we’re carving a new future to meaningfully engage and empower people to respond to climate-related disasters by rebuilding or adapting in ways that make them stronger and prepared for future challenges.

Together, we were able to share the success of this partnership with national audiences at the national Land Trust Rally in New Orleans, LA. The Town of Princeville’s Dr. Glenda Knight, Commissioner Linda Joyner and Historical Outreach Coordinator Kelsi Dew presented alongside the Open Space Institute’s Hallie Schwab, The Land Conservancy of New Jersey’s Barbara Davis and CTNC’s Mary Alice Holley. Each speaker presented creative and varied approaches being implemented to deal with increased rainfall and flooding while developing place-based solutions for climate resilience.

Watch this video to see their work in action.

These partnerships demonstrate the power of land conservation to mitigate flooding and equip communities with the tools to harness nature for community benefit when rebuilding and protecting against climate-related disasters. Sharing our experiences with land trusts from across the nation inspires more organizations to implement similar conservation strategies to address climate impacts.

Together, we’re building a national model for how conservation organizations, municipalities, and community partners can work collaboratively to build more resilient communities.

“Later this year, the Land Trust Alliance is launching a series of trainings on how land trusts can improve climate resilience in their communities. It will focus on exploring and expanding their water-focused work through a process outlined in our recently released water quality guide, “Taking the Plunge”. The collaboration between these land trusts and community partners undoubtedly encouraged more organizations to participate in this programming. More importantly, their examples are already serving as aspirational “North stars” for many as they start to navigate this intricate and difficult area of work.” Andrew B. Szwak, AICP (he|him|his), Land Trust Alliance, Mid-Atlantic Program Manager

It’s your support that made these impacts possible. Only with staunch support can our organization find new ways to carve a path to an equitable and secure future for climate-vulnerable communities.

Princeville Collaborative Shared with Top Environmental Officials

CTNC’s community-led projects are inspiring the nation to build stronger communities in the face of climate change.

Michael Regan, as EPA administrator, requested the establishment of the EJ4Climate grant fund to address environmental justice and community needs in the United States.

In July, as a recipient of the EJ4Climate grant fund, CTNC staff were invited to Mexico to discuss the accomplishments and plans of the Princeville Collaborative with government leaders from Mexico, Canada, and the United States. CTNC’s Chris Canfield and Mary Alice Holley traveled to Merida, Mexico, for the 29th Annual Session of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) Council and Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC) Public Forum. The invite-only Forum was attended by the top environmental officials from the three North American countries, as well as youth, Indigenous groups and local communities.

At the event, the CTNC team added meaningful experiences to the “Community-led Environmental Education for Sustainable Development” theme. North American grantees shared their activities with communities directly impacted by our changing climate.

“What really stayed with us were those side conversations that gave us new perspectives about the challenges conservation and environment leaders are facing across our three countries. These encounters brought us a deeper appreciation for the work we get to do here in North Carolina. Perhaps what was most heartening about our visit was the affirmation that what CTNC aligned to support a few years ago in our new strategic plan – community-climate-equity – is what each country in North America, each in its own way, is embracing, too.”

-Mary Alice Holley, Director of Community Innovation

The 29th Council Session of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation addressed many of the most pressing environmental challenges facing North America’s communities, particularly vulnerable communities and Indigenous Peoples. This is a joint meeting between Canada, Mexico, and the United States (CUSMA, T-MEC, USMCA), led by their respective environment ministers as part of each country’s commitment to the Environmental Cooperation Agreement.

“I was proud to share that North Carolina is on the leading edge with our newly underway $20 million effort to build a statewide flood resilience model and plan. I’ve been collaborating with state officials on the process and am heartened by the holistic, community-driven approach they are undertaking. Flooding is not just a coastal issue, as the devastating recent events in Eastern Kentucky remind us. And conservation plays a crucial role in mitigating that threat.”

-Chris Canfield, Executive Director

Read the highlights of the Priceville Collaborative and more about all EJ4Climate Grant projects on the Commission for Environmental Collaboration website.

Crews Work to Conserve and Protect Princeville

Summer is the perfect time to accomplish work that builds a more resilient state.

Embarking on Phase II of the Princeville project, CTNC worked with Conservation Corps NC and the Town of Princeville to hire summer youth crews for conservation and maintenance projects in town.

The crew’s first stop was Heritage Park, 428 Mutual Boulevard in Princeville. This park, along the river, is an important piece of Princeville’s resilient future. By claiming it for public use, it offers much-needed overflow for river flooding and runoff. It will also be the future site of a permanent Farmer’s Market and an accessible walking trail. The crew’s efforts this summer have complemented the current use of the park while supporting future goals slated by Town leadership and community members.

At Heritage Park, the youth installed exercise stations, pollinator gardens, benches and trash receptacles, and walking paths, and also re-mulched the playground. They also installed trail signs that will serve as educational tools for parkgoers about the importance of pollinator plants, wildlife habitat, and stormwater management.

At Heritage Trail and the Elementary School, the youth completed maintenance of conservation projects installed in 2021 through similar partnerships. They mulched the newly established Heritage Trail, cleaned up debris, and removed weeds from the rain gardens designed and installed by NC State and M&M Landscaping.

Thank you to the young adults from Tarboro High School who worked with community leaders for six weeks to complete this project. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Work locations for this crew included Heritage Park, Heritage Trail, and Princeville Elementary School. This summer of work completed by the Conservation Corps North Carolina crew members fulfills the first goal of the EJ4Climate grant awarded by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).

This collaboration is possible in part thanks to a grant from Anonymous Trust as well as the CEC, supported by the Environmental Protection Agency. This new grant program, called EJ4Climate, 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 CEC, a tri-national effort to promote and facilitate sustainable development in North America.

Princeville Elementary School teachers volunteer during a community planting day.

Seeds of Climate Resilience: FEMA Buyout Program

“Seeds of Climate Resilience” is a blog series to inspire ideas to help our state weather our changing climate. We can protect our families, economies, and the environment. The seeds of change planted today will help communities thrive for generations to come.

All too often, flood-prone communities are dotted with vacated lots that are scraped clean of man-made structures and left for nature to reclaim. These lots are usually deemed prone to future flooding, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has given the landowners a path to sell their property and move away from the potential of repeated flooding.

What are FEMA buyouts?
Buyouts are the primary federal program designed to increase disaster resiliency.

After a presidentially-declared disaster, local officials may decide to request money from the state to purchase properties that have either flooded or been substantially damaged. The state chooses to offer buyouts using FEMA’s money through its Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to reduce future disaster losses.

Buyouts are voluntary, and no one is required to sell their property. As part of the federal buyout program, the area is deed restricted and cannot be developed with permanent structures in the future. Existing properties and structures are demolished, cleared, and permanently maintained as green space by the local government.

The voluntary buyout program gives property owners the option to sell their property and move away from the potential of repeated flooding while reducing property damages and expenses incurred from flooding. The flood buyout program can be an extremely useful tool for communities recovering from a natural disaster.

How does it help lessen climate change?
As our climate changes, communities are experiencing more frequent and severe rainfall as well as greater swings between rains and drought. Creating permeable spaces designed to capture water benefits people, plants, and wildlife.

Once homes are bought, the land is vacated and development rights removed. This provides communities with an opportunity to restore the land to a natural space that can be designed to store water and be flooded again while keeping future residents out of harm’s way.
North Carolina relies on FEMA-funded buyouts to create more open space and reduce future disaster risks.

What if these abandoned spaces were given new life through conservation work?
Land where buyouts occur is eventually deeded over to the town or other local government agency. The rules say that such lots can never be built on again. Too often they remain vacant and are seen as a blight to the remaining community members. But there are other options.

Organizations and local governments can sometimes turn these buyout lots into community use spaces. While these spaces are not safe for human habitation or businesses, with a little imagination, they can be transformed into spaces that support a thriving community. Communities where voluntary buyouts have occurred then have an opportunity to convert that land to a conservation use like a public park, managed wetland, community garden, or other non-permanent use.

North Carolina Success Story: Princeville
Finding effective land uses for FEMA buyout properties is a cornerstone in Princeville’s flood mitigation strategy.

In a project funded by an EJ4Climate: Environmental Justice and Climate Resilience grant from the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation and EPA, CTNC will work with the Town of Princeville to convert vacant and underutilized parcels to conservation benefits, including managed wetlands and a model community garden. This new grant program addresses environmental inequality and promotes community-level innovation and climate adaptation. The leaders and residents of Princeville hope this will become a replicable model that flood-prone communities across North Carolina will implement to protect their residents from the damage caused by severe flood and rain events.

In 2021, the NC General Assembly included over $200 million in the state budget to fund resilience projects that will aid communities in addressing flooding and building resiliency through conservation solutions.

How can citizens help determine how vacant land created from buyouts could be used or maintained?
Advocate with your local elected officials for shared community green space and conservation projects on vacant and underutilized land owned by your city, town or municipality. Where possible, a local land trust or conservation organization may offer programs to support this effort.

Over the past 20 years, The Land Conservancy of New Jersey has worked with communities impacted by ongoing, damaging storms. In many of these municipalities, FEMA cannot provide the relief residents need to leave their properties and settle elsewhere. The Land Conservancy office worked with these towns, the State of New Jersey, and homeowners to purchase more than 200 homes and convert the land to open space. Restoring the land to its natural condition provides additional capacity to hold stormwater, offers safety to residents, reduces further loss of property, and saves the lives of emergency responders who continue to put themselves in harm’s way during these dangerous situations. It creates a park where none existed before and answered a community’s needs to reduce the harmful and serious effects of repetitive, overwhelming storms in some of our most vulnerable neighborhoods.

Learn more about CTNC’s efforts to conserve land in watersheds as a climate mitigation tool protecting NC communities.

SOURCES:

Seeds of Climate Resilience: Rain Gardens

“Seeds of Climate Resilience” is a blog series to inspire ideas to help our state weather our changing climate. We can protect our families, economies, and the environment. The seeds of change planted today will help communities thrive for generations to come.

Rain gardens offer an attractive and effective solution to address flooding and increased rainfall on a property.

According to the North Carolina State Climate Office,

Heavy rains from hurricanes and other weather systems will become more frequent and intense. Annual precipitation is also expected to increase. These changes are driven primarily by increases in atmospheric water vapor as the climate warms. Extreme rainfall in North Carolina can result from hurricanes, Nor’easters, or other weather systems like thunderstorms. Severe thunderstorms are also likely to increase in a warming climate and can cause flash flooding, especially in urban areas.

https://climate.ncsu.edu/learn/climate-change/

Water containment will be increasingly important as our communities in low-lying areas or near lakes, rivers, and streams see rising waters and flooding.

What is a rain garden?
A rain garden has grasses, flowers, and shrubs that can survive in water-soaked soil after a rainstorm. Rain gardens are located in the low points of yards so that the water that runs off of roofs or driveways can be directed towards the rain garden. After the storm, the soil and plants absorb the rain, and the area dries out quickly.

A rain garden is NOT a wetland, a place for mosquitos to thrive, or difficult to maintain long-term. This garden area is dry to lightly moist most of the time. And it is naturally beautiful!

How does it help mitigate climate change?
As our climate changes, communities are experiencing more frequent and severe rainfall and greater swings between rains and drought. Creating permeable spaces designed to capture water benefits plants, wildlife, people, and the built environment.

If rainwater has nowhere else to go, it will often result in flooding or standing water. However, if rainwater is captured where it lands, it can promote healthy plants and sustainable ecosystems that provide a conservation benefit to nearby residents.

Supporting habitat: Rain gardens capture and store water after heavy rainfall. The water is held in the garden area, absorbed by the water-loving plants, and naturally filtered back into the soil.

Managing stormwater: Any water that does not infiltrate the groundwater then moves through a canal, ditch, drain, or pipeline until it reaches a larger body of water such as a river, pond, or wetland area.

Rainwater is not treated at a facility to remove pollutants before entering larger waterways. This means that rain gardens are essential to help naturally filter the water that passes through them.

This process allows communities to better manage heavy amounts of rainfall and stormwater by slowing it down and using natural spaces to provide an added layer of filtration before the water reaches your home.

North Carolina Success Story: Princeville Elementary School
After Hurricane Matthew devastated Princeville Elementary School in 2016, students had to go to schools in surrounding communities for three years until their school could be renovated and flood-proofed. Finally, in 2020, the Princeville Elementary School welcomed back its almost 200 students.

As part of a $200,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Wells Fargo Resilient Communities Program, CTNC worked with local organizations to install rain gardens at the school to capture and redirect water. Today, the gardens work to protect the school from excess water. The gardens were designed by the NC State Coastal Dynamics Design Lab and installed by volunteers from Conservation Corps NC, CTNC, NC State, M&M Landscaping Co. and residents of Princeville.

Learn more about our work in Princeville.

How can citizens help build a rain garden in your community?
This article from NC State has great tips to bring this climate adaptation strategy to your community:
“Why Your Yard Might Need a Rain Garden”

SOURCE: Rain Water Guide developed by NC State Coastal Dynamics Design Lab

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.

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