A deal to protect a Marine Corps landing field near Pollocksville from encroachment will also save a large riverfront tract in Jones County from development.
The North Carolina Coastal Land Trust announced Tuesday that it had recently purchased a 113-acre property adjacent to the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point’s Outlying Landing Field Oak Grove.
The organization described the property as consisting of farmland and bottomland hardwood wetlands along the Trent River.
The purchase is part of an effort to address growing development pressure around military installations, which could affect military readiness and the ability to train the troops. The Department of Defense contributed half of the purchase price in order to place permanent restrictions on residential and commercial development while allowing the continued use of the land for farming, forestry and conservation work.
“When the For Sale signs started going up on this property, we decided to take action. Due to the extensive road frontage associated with this property, we knew it was only a matter of time before numerous lots would be sold and homes would be constructed adjacent to Oak Grove,” stated Janice Allen, director of land protection for the Coastal Land Trust.
The 976-acre Outlying Landing Field Oak Grove is used by both Cherry Point and New River Air Station for training pilots to land aircraft on unimproved surfaces in a reduced visibility area. Currently, helicopter, tilt-rotor, and harrier flight training takes place at Oak Grove. Development of the purchased property may have resulted in restrictions on timing, frequency and the type of training that occurs at Oak Grove, officials said.
“The threat of development raised the priority of this project for REPI funding,“ said MCAS Cherry Point Community Plans and Liaison Officer Rhonda Murray. “This outlying field is a critical military training asset.”
Congress gave the military authority in 2003 to work with local and state governments and nongovernmental organizations to help buffer key military training areas from future encroachment and to provide cost-sharing for land conservation through the Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative, or REPI, program.
In 2004, the Coastal Land Trust and officials at Cherry Point signed a memorandum of understanding to work together to conserve key tracts of land with military and conservation values around the main base in Havelock in Craven County as well as outlying fields in Carteret and Jones counties, including the Piney Island Bombing Target and outlying landing fields at Bogue and Oak Grove.
The organization said that to date, the partnership had preserved more than 12,000 acres.
The Coastal Land Trust said its ability to raise private and public grant funds for conservation helped leverage REPI funds for these projects to benefit both the military and the environment.
The purchase was the 17th project completed by Coastal Land Trust in partnership with Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point with the dual goal of conserving open space and/or natural habitats and minimizing encroachment adjacent to military installations.
The Coastal Land Trust said it will retain the Trent River property and manage it as a preserve.
For the near term, most of the open land will continue to be farmed. Future plans, as funding allows, may include planting longleaf pine, creating a pollinator meadow, and/or enhancing the small ponds on the property to improve habitat for native wildlife, officials said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Harold H. Bate Foundation also provided funding for the project. The Bate Foundation provided a grant that covered most of the Coastal Land Trust’s expenses related to the transaction, such as survey, title work, legal and closing costs.
“We are glad to have contributed funds to this excellent project that supports the Coastal Land Trust as well as the military’s objectives. We hope to provide more grants for projects in Jones County, said Don Brinkley of the Harold H. Bate Foundation.