WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — It took 32 years of operating as a nonprofit organization before making a permanent home in the southeast N.C. coast, seven years just to find one and over a year to move it and renovate it. It’s been a long time coming, and it couldn’t have been a nicer day for the grand opening of the N.C. Coastal Federation’s education center and office Saturday.
At the unveiling and ribbon cutting, Todd Miller, executive director of the federation, announced that the center would be named in honor of two environmental philanthropists, Fred and Alice Stanback.
The foyer of the new education center and office. Photo: Tess Malijenovsky
“Today we’d like to recognize two people who have made a world of difference to the Coastal Federation, to the coast and to the state of North Carolina,” Miller said, standing in front of the center before a crowd of about 150 people. “If you travel anywhere across North Carolina you’re going to encounter beautiful natural areas that they have helped protect and preserve.”
Fred Stanback, of Salisbury, and his family have donated millions of dollars to environmental groups, including the federation. Some of that money helped protect pristine areas of North Carolina, including Grandfather Mountain, Linville Falls, Chimney Rock, Mount Mitchell, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Shining Rock Wilderness, Uwharrie National Forest and Croatan National Forest. They also donate money to groups that fight for tougher environmental laws, and they pay for an internship program at Duke University.
The Stanbacks, Miller said, keep a low profile and do not seek the limelight. In response to the honor, Fred Stanback wrote: “The North Carolina environment is under assault from the mountains to the sea. The N.C. Coastal Federation is doing important work in protecting the coast, and I am glad to be able to help.”
Miller was happy that the Stanbacks agreed to let the federation use their name for the education center and office. Given what the Stanbacks have done for the state’s environment and the federation, naming the building after them seemed a fitting opportunity to give thanks, he said.
“They not only give generously to land acquisition and land preservation,” said Miller, “but they also support the development of good, sound policy to protect the environment of North Carolina. They’re a major backer of many environmental groups across the state, and again it’s a great honor to the Coastal Federation that they would let us put their name on this center.”
Dick Bierly cuts the ribbon next to Tracy Skrabal. Photo: Tess Malijenovsky
An applause erupted from the crowd as two staff members moved to lift the blue cloth and reveal the sign: North Carolina Coastal Federation, Fred and Alice Stanback Coastal Education Center. The “closed” sign was flipped to “open” for the very first time, and the president of the federation, Dick Bierly, proceeded to cut the ribbon. Another applause followed.
“As the grand opening of this center, we’re ready to put it to work,” Miller continued. “It will become a tool for the future to help ensure that our coast stays the wonderful place that surrounds us. We invite everybody to join with us as we look at it today and years to come.”
The 1948 beach cottage was donated to the federation and transported from Harbor Island by barge to its new location in Wrightsville Beach’s Historic Square. The opportunity to preserve an old coastal home was a fitting move for the nonprofit organization that works to preserve and restore the coast of North Carolina.
A previous owner, Beth O’Quinn, said: “I’m absolutely delighted that it’s in the hands of the Coastal Federation. I’m so happy that it will go on to be a place that will nurture people, educate people and draw people to the coast.”
O’Quinn said that before the house was donated to the federation, she was aware of the organization but not as “focused” on it as she is today. “There are a lot of people who don’t yet know what the Coastal Federation is all about,” said Bierly. “People are going to be curious to find out.”
The new building and its prominent sign will act as “a big billboard,” he said, that will draw the attention of Wrightsville Beach visitors and residents alike. “It gives us a visibility and a prominence that we didn’t have as vagabonds before,” said Bierly.
Visitors watch a slide show of the moving and renovation process that took place over a year. Photo: Tess Malijenovsky
After the unveiling and ribbon cutting, federation members and new faces explored the education center. There was a slide show of the moving and renovation process, a videographer standing by to record anyone’s memories of the house and an art display of Bonnie Monteleone’s Plastic Ocean Project, bringing attention to the giant gyres of discarded plastics spiraling in our oceans.
The display was a symbol of the types of collaborations that will be possible now that the federation has its center, said Tracy Skrabal, coastal scientist and manager of the southeast office. She also told visitors to stay tuned for the educational programming and the speaker series that begins this month.
“We would not be able to do this programming if we didn’t have this center,” Skrabal said.
The new center has examples of how to control polluted stormwater too, featuring rain gardens, a cistern and pervious pavement. Visitors were even encouraged to pour water onto the pavement to see for themselves how water soaks in rather than runs off into the parking lot.
There were many people to thank at the grand opening for making the Fred and Alice Stanback Coastal Education Center and southeast office a reality for the federation. “We’ve been blessed with a wonderful asset,” said Miller. “Now we have to make sure that it works for our mission.”