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Saving a Piece of the NE Cape Fear River

The 2,300-acre Owens’ easement is the latest parcel along the Northeast Cape Fear River that has been preserved by the N.C. Coastal Land Trust. Source: N.C. Coastal Land Trust

WILMINGTON – Two families have preserved more than 2,300 acres of forestland along the Northeast Cape Fear River in northern Pender County, the N.C. Coastal Land Trust announced yesterday.

The property had been a high priority for the land trust since 2002, noted Camilla Herlevich, its founder and executive director.  “Everyone understands that saving land along rivers, lakes and streams means cleaner water for all,” she said. “These particular lands are truly special.”

It was a nice Christmas gift then when the land trust completed purchase of the conservation easement on Dec. 23.

Stretching for five miles on the east side of the river just south of the Duplin County line, the property is marked by numerous high bluffs. Wedged between the river and the state’s Angola Bay Gamelands, the land’s forests have an incredible variety of trees, from longleaf pine and mixed loblolly pines. The pine forests give way to bottomland hardwood wetlands and small ponds as the topography changes.

“Even the appraiser called to tell us it was one of the most beautiful tracts of working forest that he had ever seen,” said Herlevich. 

She won’t say exactly how much the land trust paid for the easement, except to note that it was a six-figure price.  The property appraised at four times the purchase price, Herlevich said. Fred and Alice Stanback of Salisbury, the state’s leading conservation philanthropists, provided all the money for the purchase, she said.

The owners, the Owens and Williams families, joined together to preserve their connections to the land for future generations.  “We are pleased to have worked with the Coastal Land Trust, and proud that the streams, forests and riverfront will be preserved into the future,” said Steven Owens, representative of HVW Legacy Holdings, the family company that owns the property.

Even the appraiser thought the tract was a beautiful example of a working forest. Photo: N.C. Coastal Land Trust

Sometimes called the “East Branch,” the Northeast Cape Fear River flows 130 miles from just south of Mount Olive in Duplin County, past Albertson and Chinquapin in Pender County. It joins the main channel of the Cape Fear at Point Peter, just north of downtown Wilmington.

Palmetto and cypress grow along its banks. Alligators lurk in its waters and pileated woodpeckers nest in its trees. Researchers at the University of North Carolina Wilmington found that the river is home to at least 45 species of fish. Crappie fishing is especially popular along the river, with Prince George Creek, Long Creek, Morgan Creek and Island Creek known as particularly good fishing spots.

No wonder, then, that the Northeast Cape Fear has been a focus for the land trust since 1999, when the Thomas family donated a conservation easement of over 1,200 acres at its Five Eagle Partners Farm. Since then, the land trust has protected another 10 places on the river or its tributaries, primarily in Pender County. The latest purchase brings the total to more than 7,300 acres that the land trust has preserved along the river.

The land trust has the right idea, noted Mike Giles, a coastal advocate for the N.C. Coastal Federation who has been among the leaders in the fight to stop Titan America from building a cement plant along the river north of Wilmington.  “The land trust’s preservation efforts along the river provide an alternate vision of what the river can be, rather than the industrial wasteland envisioned by Titan,” he said.

New Hanover County officials should also take note, Giles said. They are currently working on a long-range, comprehensive plan and economic strategy for the county, he noted. “They could include utilizing those unique river resources in a positive way while promoting a growing and sustainable economy,” Giles said.

About the Author

Frank Tursi

The author of three books and a 30-year newspaper veteran, Frank Tursi is now an assistant director at the N.C. Coastal Federation and the founding editor of "Coastal Review Online." He relinquished the title in September 2016 to become a special assignment writer. He will retire on Dec. 31, 2016. Before joining the federation in 2002, Frank was the senior environmental reporter in North Carolina. His writing has won numerous state and national awards. An avid fisherman and model boat builder, he lives in Swansboro with his wife, Doris, where Frank is a town commissioner.