WILMINGTON — There was, according to Ron McCord, no “Aha!” moment, no defining event that crystallized his long-time commitment to the N.C. Coastal Federation. It was, rather, a steady growth in his awareness of the environmental threats posed to the coastal region he had adopted.
Born and raised in St. Louis, far from any seacoast concerns, McCord was working for GlaxoSmithKline at Research Triangle Park in the 1980s and began spending summers with his family at Wrightsville Beach. There, for the first time, McCord was exposed to coastal environmental issues.
“That’s when I started getting more interested in the coast,” he said, “and became aware of the development problems. I would read about some of the things that were going on,particularly unscrupulous development, creek pollution, the shellfishing that was closing down, the reduction of the oyster population, and I thought, ‘Something needs to be done about this.’”
Over-development became a pressing concern when McCord and his family moved to Wrightsville Beach. The area’s population swelled in the mid- to late 19880s, and it got so crowded, McCord said, that he’d come home at night and find cars parked in his carport. He sold the home in Wrightsville in 1994 and built a house on the sound side of Topsail Island, where he and his wife, Diane, lived until recently moving back to the Wilmington area.
Continuing to broaden his awareness about his adopted environment, he read an article about the N.C. Coastal Federation, and decided that it would be a good group to get involved with.
“At first, I just became a member and then I started volunteering,” he said. “I did pretty much everything you can think of, from the hands-on dirty work of filling bags with oyster shells for reefs, to using my boat to ferry the oyster shells out and distributing them in the river.
“I’ve lobbied in Raleigh, met with legislators, you name it,” he added, “and I’ve also represented the federation at pretty much every festival in the area.”
Modest to a fault, McCord’s contributions to the federation’s on-going initiatives far exceed his efforts on the front lines of volunteer work. McCord’s association with GlaxoSmithKline, for example, was instrumental in the acquisition of a company grant in 2008 that helped the federation expand its regional offices along the coast.
“Ron is a particularly strong volunteer and spokesperson for the federation,” said Mike Giles, the organization’s Coastal Advocate in the Southeast Region. “He is by far one of our greatest ambassadors.”
McCord, who insists that he’s “not a bleeding heart liberal, but a conservative Republican,” doesn’t do as much of the hands-on dirty work these days, but remains a fierce and vocal advocate for environmental vigilance. He is encouraged these days by a younger generation, which appears to enthusiastically advocate for the environment.
“There’s a fairly large group with the university here (the University of North Carolina-Wilmington), that’s very involved and turn out for work days for planting along the banks and helping fill oyster creeks,” he said. “They turn out in large numbers and are very gung ho.
“In this area,” he added, “I think the transfer of knowledge and interest is quite high.”
Ron is not the only McCord with an active interest in the coastal environment. Diane is an artist whose paintings focus on marshes, beaches. Son, John, who more or less grew up on Wrightsville Beach with a surfboard under his feet, inherited that sport’s somewhat pragmatic interest in clean, coastal waters. He graduated from UNCW’s with a degree in natural resource management and works for the university’s Coastal Studies Institute.
McCord remains committed to the work and the education of others to get that work done. He’s not exactly sure how one goes about convincing people to volunteer –“I wish I knew,” he said — but he does know that for all the progress that’s been made, particularly through the efforts of the federation, the struggle goes on.
“There is still” he said, “a heck of a lot of work to be done.”