After 10 years of writing grants to acquire pieces of land across the Cape Fear River, environmental conservationist Marilyn Meares helped complete the purchase of one of the remaining tracts on Eagles Island last month.
“We’re pretty close to having the entire northern section [of the island],” Meares said. She is the coordinator of non-profit organization Cape Fear Resource Conservation and Development whose grant writing has been instrumental in facilitating the acquisition of the land by public entities such as the New Hanover Soil and Water Conservation District, which owns the most recently acquired piece.
A sub-unit of the North Carolina Division of Soil and Water Conservation, the conservation district now owns 239 acres on the northwestern edge of the island bordering the Brunswick River. It bought the land from Blue Sky Timber, a subsidiary of International Paper with a $255,000 grant from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund it received in 2010, Meares said.
Now a total of 746 acres of wild freshwater tidal marsh on the northern part of Eagles Island will be protected from future development. The protected area can be seen while driving on Highway 74/76 towards Leland.
Eagles Island and the Lower Cape Fear River basin are home to ecologically sensitive plants and animals including the shortnose sturgeon, the rare skipper butterfly, and the Carolina bishopweed which is found only in a few places in the world.
The conservation effort began in 2001 when Whitey Prevatte, owner of the former Whitey’s restaurant, gave 53 acres of land on Eagles Island to the New Hanover Soil and Water Conservation District. Meares was the district conservationist at that time.
Since then, the Eagles Island Coalition, a group of concerned citizens including planners from area municipalities and state agencies formed to ensure water quality, promote education and awareness, conserve and restore the habitat for wildlife and establish passive recreational opportunities such as canoe and kayak trails, hunting and fishing and wildlife viewing areas.
The pieces of Eagles Island successfully acquired are in the process of becoming dedicated by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program to become a state nature preserve.
“Eagles Island is one of the best freshwater tidal marshes in the state,” said Scott Pohlman, director of conservation incentives program for the NC Natural Heritage Program. He expects the process that will further protect the habitat to be completed within six months.
Next, Meares and the coalition have their eyes on 22 acres of land south of the North Carolina Battleship parking lot that they’d like to purchase to create a park with an interpretive center that would include a maritime museum honoring the local rice and naval store history.
“I have this vision that it’d be an attraction,” Meares said. She envisions it could also give visitors something else to see and do after visiting the North Carolina Battleship, such as an ecotourism paddle tour.
“Somebody could have a nice little business if they wanted to,” she said about the potential to rent kayaks and canoes at the potential site.
The owner of the property would like to sell the land, she said. And, the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission has expressed interest in helping purchase the land. But, the coalition still needs to find further funding from private donors and local municipalities, she said.
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