Down by the creek

Published 6:38 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2019

MERRY HILL – There’s a joke circulating that says government entities can’t come together and work together.

That hasn’t been the case with the state’s newest nature area.

In January 2017, property along Salmon Creek in Bertie County fronted by the Albemarle Sound, and right next to an important archaeological site, was listed for sale as a prime waterfront development by a Raleigh real estate broker.

Twenty-two months later, in November of 2018, this huge tract was conveyed by The North Carolina Coastal Land Trust to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, which will manage the site as the new Salmon Creek State Natural Area. The move ensures permanent protection of its significant natural, historic, archaeological and cultural resources.

The original sale of the property was to the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust who went about raising some $5,000,000 to repay a loan made by the state Conservation Fund.

But that was just one part. The Land Trust then sought further assistance, and got it thanks to the cooperation of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, N.C. Attorney General’s Environmental Enhancement Grant Fund, N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, the Enviva Forest Conservation Fund and the U.S. Department of Defense; all of whom assisted in helping raise the funds needed for repayment.

At nearly 1,000 acres, the property features three-and-one-half miles of beautiful frontage along the Salmon Creek floodplain with forests of cypress-gum swamp and bottomland hardwood. It also contains a tidal freshwater marsh recognized as ecologically significant by the N.C. Natural Heritage Program.

Added to that, the property is the subject of archaeological research by The First Colony Foundation, who have unearthed Native American Algonquin and Elizabethan English artifacts indicative of settlement by the Roanoke colonists on the site, dubbed ‘Site X’ from the 16th century. Some researchers theorize the artifacts could provide evidence that survivors from The Lost Colony relocated to the area in the late 1580s.

Ann Simpson (left), President of the Coastal Land Trust presents the ‘deed’ to the Salmon Creek Natural Area to NC Secretary of Natural and Cultural Resources Susi Hamilton at the dedication ceremony. The Coastal Land Trust originally purchased the 1,000 acre property with a $5 million loan, since repaid in full. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

“We are thrilled to have saved this property to make it available to the people of North Carolina, and we appreciate the public’s outpouring of support for conserving this area,” said Camilla Herlevich, executive director of the N.C. Coastal Land Trust.

On Friday, March 15, the formal dedication of the transfer, with many of the parties involved, was held at the site off Bal Gra Road. Accompanying the transfer was a ceremonial ‘deed’ presented to state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR) Secretary Susi Hamilton; a Restrictive Covenant with the Department of Defense U.S. Air Force presented to Col. Roger Messer, Vice-Commander, 4th Fighter Wing of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro; and lastly, several boxes of excavated artifacts from Site X by Project Director Larry Lucchetti for display by the NCDNCR.

“None of this would have been possible without the assistance of many partners,” said Coastal Land Trust Northeast Regional Director Lee Leidy.

At the ceremony, each of the ‘partners’ took turns expressing appreciation they had made the effort to provide an ecological sanctuary to now be appreciated and enjoyed by all.

“The competitiveness of the Fish & Wildlife Wetlands Conservation Act program underscores the importance of this site in the conservation of resource protection and public access to our nation; and from a wildlife perspective it provides a wonderful habitat for many species of waterfowl and fish, and it is our mission to protect it,” noted Pete Benjamin, Field Supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Salmon Creek was the number-one rated project by the Clean Water Management Trust in 2017,” said CWMT project manager Nancy Guthrie. “So, this place is our common heritage, and it’s protected forever.”

“This place has played a critical part in the national defense of this nation,” said Col. Messer. “Not just for future citizens and conservation efforts, but training opportunities that we can execute our mission everyday.”

“We have 79 (state waterfront recreation areas) properties across North Carolina,” said state Parks and Recreation Director Dwayne Patterson. “And now after today, we have 80. This is just another way for our citizens to commune with nature.”

“This property stands out due to its rich cultural history, truly pristine ecosystems and unique archaeological resources,” said Hamilton. “In places like this the question isn’t if it should be protected from development, but how. We look forward to offering this new state natural area in Bertie County, a beautiful part of our state currently underserved by our state parks system.”

Most importantly to everyone involved – especially Bertie County – is that the natural area will be maintained.

“Typically what we do here will have a light touch and a light footprint,” said Brian Strong, Deputy Director for Planning and Resources with the NC State Park System. “Down the road when staffing and funding become available we’ll put in trails, canoe/kayak paddle launches, parking, and other low-end items that give people access. People want to come out here – we know that – and as quick as we can find money and personnel we’ll get things rolling.”

For now, Salmon Creek will be managed by the Park Service out of nearby Merchants Millpond in Gates County.

“This is history, archeology, and nature all integrated together here,” Hamilton emphasized. “And when those three things come together, everybody wins.”