NAVASSA — The Coastal Land Trust has purchased more than 1,000 acres along 3.5 miles of the Cape Fear River and 1.5 miles of Indian Creek in Brunswick County.
The property will be protected forever by the Coastal Land Trust and managed as a natural area.
The 1,048 acres is the heart of Dollison’s Swamp, a site identified as “very ecologically significant” by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, according to the trust. The designation is because of its age and near-pristine bottomland hardwood and cypress-gum forest.
“The area is a vast floodplain forest rich with wildlife,” Coastal Land Trust Executive Director Walker Golder said in a statement. “Protecting this forest will help reduce the risk and severity of flooding to downstream communities, protect habitat for wildlife, and enhance water quality.”
The site also was identified as a high-priority site for protection by the town of Navassa and the Coastal Land Trust as culturally and ecologically significant.
“This forest connects to a 1,337-acre property held under conservation easement by the Coastal Land Trust and adds to more than 14,000 acres the Coastal Land Trust has already protected along the Lower Cape Fear River,” said Golder. “Protecting this watershed remains one of our highest priorities.”
The area’s floodplain forest, creeks, and freshwater marsh provide important nursery areas for anadromous fish such as striped bass, American and hickory shad, and possibly Atlantic sturgeon, which is a federally listed threatened species.
The land also provides habitat for the rare Rafinesque’s big-eared bat, a threatened species, the southeastern bat, a species of special concern, and for bottomland forest-dependent wading birds, waterfowl, raptors and songbirds, like the prothonotary warbler.
“This is a special place,” Janice Allen, Coastal Land Trust’s director of land protection. “The wild and wonderful Dollison’s Swamp of Brunswick County hosts countless buttressed cypress and swamp tupelo trees, many of them ancient. Fishermen, kayakers, and boaters regularly enjoy this scenic and secluded spot. Downstream, greater Wilmington area residents reap its myriad benefits because the swamp moderates floodwaters, filters water, and provides critical habitat for fish and wildlife.”
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Damage Assessment, Remediation and Restoration Program and an Enviva Forest Conservation Fund grant provided funding for the purchase. Enviva created its fund, which is administered by the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, to help protect sensitive bottomland forests in North Carolina and Virginia.
The acquisition is part of the Kerr-McGee Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration program, with funding administered through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The Kerr-McGee Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration process aims to restore and preserve unique and vulnerable habitats in the Lower Cape Fear River watershed to compensate the public for natural resource injuries stemming from the Kerr-McGee Chemical Corp. Superfund site.
“This project was selected for funding because of its proximity to the Kerr-McGee site and because of the tract’s conservation significance,” said Krista McCraken of NOAA, one of the federal agencies involved in directing use of the Kerr-McGee settlement funds. “Being able to protect these unique habitats from future development benefits communities throughout the watershed.”
The Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation Corp. site is a former creosote wood-treating facility on a 250-acre parcel of land adjacent to the Cape Fear River, Brunswick River and Sturgeon Creek in Navassa. The facility was established in 1936, quit operating in 1974 and was dismantled 1979-1980. Creosote and sludge remain on the site from the wood treatment process, which led to the release of semi-volatile organic compounds into the surrounding environment. In 2010, EPA designated the property a Superfund site.
The North Carolina Coastal Land Trust enriches coastal communities of North Carolina through conservation of natural areas and working lands, education, and the promotion of good land stewardship. Founded in 1992, the Coastal Land Trust has saved more than 80,000 acres of land with scenic, recreational, historic and/or ecological value, and has offices in Wilmington, New Bern and Elizabeth City. www.CoastalLandTrust.org.