WINDSOR – It’s cliché, but: If it’s built – they will come.
That’s what a group of Bertie County educators believe is conceivable with the 137 acres of land on the Albemarle Sound with 2,200 feet of coast line that’s been named the Tall Glass of Water Project.
The county hopes to use the land as a location for recreation, education, and tourism.
Emily Miller of McAdams and Associates is overseeing a Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) application the county will submit by the May 2 deadline for review and consideration, seeking $500,000 for land acquisition cost reimbursement on the property.
Among the ideas considered are for the establishment of recreational facilities to include beach access, water recreation, picnic shelters, restroom facilities, camping sites, hiking and biking trails in the initial phase.
Master planning for the project will commence in the fall of 2016 assisted with the participation of university students from either N.C. State in Raleigh or East Carolina in Greenville.
At the monthly Board of Commissioner’s meeting in Windsor on Monday, several educators appeared to present an idea they believe would benefit Bertie County students in private and public schools and beyond.
County school board member Jo Davis Johnson discussed the “Sound to Sea”, the only residential environmental education program on the Outer Banks at Trinity Center on Bogue Banks in Carteret County.
“Sound to Sea” offers school groups a habitat-based program that includes hands-on activities allowing the students a chance to explore North Carolina’s barrier islands and its five habitats.
Organizers believe “Sound to Sea” benefits the school group academically and socially, both at Trinity Center and when they return to school. Teachers, students and chaperons have praised the program, including several with Bertie County Schools who appeared with Johnson before the Commissioners.
“It became so powerful that teachers were coming to me saying it’s good for all our children,” Johnson said. “This is a place they can go and learn.”
The Bogue Banks land was donated by a church group, the Episcopal Diocese, as a campground in the 1980’s, with “Sound to Sea” coming in 1992.
“My dream when I came back home was why can’t we do this here,” Johnson asked. “(This is) a place where the students, the teachers, and the community could be the hub of teaching and learning thanks to a dream you all have made a little more real.”
Three Bertie County schools have visited “Sound to Sea” since last year for overnight stays at the campus: Aulander Elementary, Windsor Elementary, and West Bertie Elementary. When the students returned they created both a YouTube video and published their adventure in a book.
“They made it a project-based learning unit of study that lasted all year long,” Johnson maintained.
The students in groups actually visit the coastal eco-systems from the (Bogue) Sound to the Atlantic Ocean.
“Some of these kids had never put their feet in the sand,” Johnson explained. “They had never walked on a beach, experienced salt water or sea creatures in their natural habitat.
“What they find out is that the Sound is the ocean’s nursery, and how the bodies of water are connected,” she added. “They learn how to protect the environment and how to preserve it for future use. If we do this in Bertie County, our children would be so incredibly educated.”
The principals echoed much the same praise.
“Our children were just so impressed with the hands-on experience,” said Aulander’s Tracy Gregory. “Eco-systems are a major part of our testing, and what better ways for children to do well than to live it, breathe it, and experience it. They were really like little scientists.”
Gregory said the book the children created was presented to the school board, and copies have been made available in the schools’ libraries, and parents had an opportunity to purchase the books as well.
“These kids really wanted to come back and write stuff,” said Aulander science teacher Jean Boller. “This shows the kind of stuff they’ll see on the ‘End of Grade’ (EOG) tests. The kids saw (marine life) and it was fun.”
“The experience itself is just priceless,” said Wes Dudley of West Bertie. “To sit on the beach with the groups of kids was amazing and made me think what they don’t get a chance to experience and how this was a ‘wow’ moment for so many of them.”
“Some of my kids had never been on an overnight trip; something children in some other parts of the state may take for granted,” said Mona Gilliam of Windsor Elementary. “These are the things we want our children to learn because one day they’ll have to take our place.”
The Commissioners also viewed the YouTube video which the students created themselves.
The principals said the average cost per trip is $160 per student with some of the expense ($10,000) paid through Title-I funding that have since been cut.
“(Faith-based) community people made donations of monies and materials so that each child had what they needed for the trip,” said Johnson. “I’ve never seen so many people in this county that embraced it.”
County Manager Scott Sauer said the county plans to purchase a supply of the children’s’ books to use in potential recruitment for the county.
“This is a chance for us to put something in a client’s hands to show what we can do,” Sauer said. “Hopefully, one day we’ll have a facility here to show them that this is where we do it. We hope Emily can catch this enthusiasm as she puts the final touches on our grant application.”
There was a public comment phase where Bertie citizens could speak.
“We’ve got a lot of story here,” said John Davis. “When you think of things that build tourism in this county, think of the hundreds of kids who would visit Bertie County for something like this and then want to come back later, who knows what could happen. Nothing happens without a vision and a plan.”
Miller said the “Sounds” presentation would be incorporated along with other suggestions into the PARTF application. The Commissioners also reminded those in attendance that the $500,000 applied for was for the next fiscal year alone, and other applications in future years could follow.
Miller added that the pre-application approval would be made in late April as to whether to pursue a full submittal.
“We will apply to acquire the property this year and from discussions with PARTF representatives, we want to move forward after acquisition into preliminary work like walking trails and public beach access to show that the county is already taking the initiative to start this project,” Miller stated. “The master plan we’re working on with (NCSU or ECU) students will be part of our master plan of what we look forward to applying for next year.”
Commissioner Ron Wesson then made a motion for Chairman John Trent to approve the submission of the grant application for the May 2 deadline. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Stewart White and approved by the Board unanimously.