Lemonade Out of Lemons: NC Town Turns Problem Into Economic Boom


MOUNT AIRY, N.C. – As development expands in even the smallest of North Carolina towns, erosion is a growing problem for existing waterways. 

That was the case for Mount Airy before city planners partnered with water conservation experts to find a solution that's paying back in big dividends. 

To prevent further erosion and clean up the Ararat River that passes through the town, more than six miles of greenway were built. 

Darren Lewis, Mount Airy’s assistant parks and recreation director, says in addition to fixing a problem, the Granite Greenway planted an economic seed.

"We're really excited about what it has done for the private businesses that really see the value of the greenway,” he states. “It has created several businesses that have opened along the greenway."

Several restaurants and outdoor recreation businesses have plans to open up along the river, and some have already opened their doors. 

In addition, the greenway has inspired at least 15 different races or charity walks that are helping local nonprofit groups and drawing tourists to the area.

City Manager Barbara Jones says the benefits created from better managing the waterway will be experienced for generations.

"It has turned into a great opportunity,” she states. “It has turned into a great economic driver for us. It has been definitely a positive boost for Mount Airy."

Like many cities, Mount Airy felt the impact of the Great Recession and several large factories shut down. 

Community development organizer Martin Collins says because of the renewed interest in the downtown coming from the Granite Greenway, the city has been able to redevelop the large buildings into spaces for businesses and residents. 

"We're finding reuse of vacant buildings by business, and other adaptive reuses that will provide more customers for downtown businesses and restaurants," he explains.

The Mount Airy greenway project came about as a result of a partnership with Resource Institute, a nonprofit organization that manages public funds and partners with local groups to better manage water resources.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC
From Public News Service -  http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2017-11-27/water/lemonade-out-of-lemons-nc-town-turns-problem-into-economic-boom/a60310-1

Helping Mother Nature: NC Land Management Shifts to New Approach

Banks on the stream in Stone Mountain State Park were excavated and cleared after a rock quarry damaged the health of the waterway. (Greg Jennings)

Banks on the stream in Stone Mountain State Park were excavated and cleared after a rock quarry damaged the health of the waterway. (Greg Jennings)

ROARING GAP, N.C. -- North Carolina is changing the way it manages its state lands and waterways. After decades of a hands-off approach, a new method is being used in hundreds of projects across the state. 

Called active management, the practice describes a process where problems in stream health and restoration are evaluated, and man-made solutions are implemented to maintain water quality. Marshall Ellis, the mountain region biologist for North Carolina State Parks, explained the shift.

"Previously in state parks, we've never really done a very good job of actually managing our resources,” Ellis said. "We felt like, 'Oh, they're protected. We don't need to do anything.' And then began to realize Mother Nature occasionally needs a little help."

Ellis added that North Carolina is leading the way in this type of management. Recently more than 100 supervisors from other southeastern states visited Stone Mountain State Park, where the state worked with the nonprofit project management group Resource Institute. The project repaired damage to a park waterway caused by a rock quarry company.

Greg Jennings of Jennings Environmental helped with the Stone Mountain Project, and his firm is now in the process of planting native shrubbery to serve as a natural erosion barrier.

"We are returning the stream to its natural condition after it had been disturbed by a human land activity,” Jennings said.

Ellis said in addition to the new approach of active management, the state also is learning the benefits of public-private partnerships in working with the Resource Institute to manage projects and utilize federal dollars.

"One of the things we struggled with is how to manage these projects. What we needed was somebody who could fill that role,” Ellis said. "So we worked with the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and we've come up with the system that allows Resource Institute to take on the nuts and bolts of managing those projects."

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC
From Public News Service - NC -  http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2017-11-15/water/helping-mother-nature-nc-land-management-shifts-to-new-approach/a60272-1

NC a "Pitstop" for Pollinators in the Fall

October 6, 2017

Ruby Red-throated hummingbirds are among the pollinators traveling through North Carolina during the fall in need of pollinating plants to help them survive their journey south. (Evangelio Gonzalez/Flickr)

Ruby Red-throated hummingbirds are among the pollinators traveling through North Carolina during the fall in need of pollinating plants to help them survive their journey south. (Evangelio Gonzalez/Flickr)

October 6, 2017

NEBO, N.C. – Cooler temperatures and changing leaves in North Carolina can make it easy to forget that there's still some wildlife depending on the plants in yards and gardens. You might say some pollinators - like hummingbirds and Monarch butterflies - are getting by on "a wing and a prayer" as they use North Carolina as a pitstop on their migration south to warmer temperatures for the winter. 

Park ranger Jamie Cameron, at Lake James State Park, says he looks for plants that bloom in the fall to ensure there's pollen available.

"This time of year, I believe that your pollinator gardens serve as a critical pitstop for certain critters, and I specifically try to select for sources of pollen that will come late in the season," he says. 

He recommends Culver's root and asters as good, late-season pollinators to plant. He also trims some pollinating plants back earlier in the season, to delay their maturity and make their pollen available in early fall. Cameron adds that making sure streams and waterways have healthy vegetation serves a dual purpose - maintaining water quality, and providing pollen sources for birds and insects.

Resource Institute is a nonprofit agency that pairs public dollars with local water-management needs. Alan Walker works for RI as a field consultant and says creating robust habitats for pollinators is also good for many other wildlife species. 

"It's important that they have critical habitat to feed on to make those things happen, and what Resource Institute does is incorporate those plantings and seed mixtures into the stream bank and shoreline stabilization projects, to create additional habitat for pollinators," he explains. 

Cameron says while creating pollinator gardens is important, it's equally important to remember why they're needed now, more than ever.

"Pollinator gardens are great, but you know, we're just trying to recreate what is naturally available," Cameron adds. "The reason that we need pollinator gardens is because so much habitat has been lost, either through development or agriculture, or the use of herbicides in modern culture."

In addition to planting gardens, he advises people to curb the use of herbicides and to use native plants in their gardens to support insects and birds that may be struggling to find food.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC

From Public News Service - NC: http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2017-10-06/environment/nc-a-pitstop-for-pollinators-in-the-fall/a59705-1

Public-Private Partnership Repairs NC Waterways After Hurricane Matthew

August 3, 2017 

Waterway restoration to repair damage from Hurricane Matthew is moving ahead because of a public-private partnership. (Hurricane Matthew/flickr)

Waterway restoration to repair damage from Hurricane Matthew is moving ahead because of a public-private partnership. (Hurricane Matthew/flickr)

WARSAW, N.C. – It's been a little over 10 months since Hurricane Matthew ravaged parts of North Carolina causing flooding in river basins across the state. 

Although the water has receded, the cleanup continues and the state is partnering with the nonprofit group Resource Institute to restore rivers, streams, wetlands and ponds impacted by the storm. 

Vernon Cox, director of the Division of Soil and Water Conservation with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, says the partnership has really pushed progress ahead.

"Having someone like Resource Institute with that capacity to get people out in the field and do assessments and get on with the process of recovery is very important to us and for the agricultural community that we work with," he states.

To date, the assessment work is completed on 13 dams and one section of stream. The next steps are cost estimating, design, permitting and construction. 

Resource Institute pools public resource dollars and connects them with communities that need them.

State Rep. Jimmy Dixon of Warsaw says his district already is seeing a positive impact from the public and private sector working together.

"From my point of view, the people in charge of requesting these funds and administering have done a very, very good job,” he states. “I have heard very, very few complaints on the timeliness of the work being done."

Cox says oftentimes preventing the magnitude of flooding that happens during a storm like Hurricane Matthew starts way before weather pattern develops. 

"It's a huge issue in the eastern part of the state,” he points out. “If we don't stay on top of removing stream debris, then drainage becomes a significant issue, and when the next storm event occurs, it becomes that much worse."

It's estimated Hurricane Matthew caused at least $4 billion in property damage. The General Assembly allocated $38 million to aid in repairs, in addition to what's available at the federal level. 
Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC

From Public News Service - NC:  http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2017-08-03/water/public-private-partnership-repairs-nc-waterways-after-hurricane-matthew/a58818-1

National Wildlife Federation recognized RI Board Member, Richard Mode with its National Conservation Leadership Award

RESTON, Va. – This weekend, the National Wildlife Federation recognized long-time North Carolina conservationist Richard Mode with its National Conservation Leadership Award.

"Everyone who loves North Carolina’s woods and waters should be grateful for the lifetime work of Richard Mode,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “For the past half century, Richard has worked tirelessly to mobilize hunters and anglers to protect rivers, defend public lands, and advocate for effective air and water protections. He’s one of America’s great conservationists and I’m proud to call him a friend.”

The National Conservation Leadership Award recognizes exemplary conservation accomplishment or sustained conservation leadership. The award ceremony took place at the National Wildlife Federation’s annual meeting held at Skamania Lodge, in Stevenson, Washington.

“A love of the outdoors permeates everything Richard does,” said Tim Gestwicki, Chief Executive Officer of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. “Richard’s work to protect clean water, preserve trout habitat, and defend our public forests has had real benefits for fish and wildlife. Driving these successes is Richard’s passion and positive, collaborative spirit that leaves a lasting impact on everyone around him.” 

About Richard Mode

An unwavering commitment to the conservation of our natural resources is what has driven Richard Mode to spend the last three decades mobilizing other outdoor enthusiasts into a powerful force that has impacted local, state, and federal resource management decisions and legislation. As a board member of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation (NCWF), past president and board chair of Trout Unlimited (TU), and founder of the local TU chapter, he has dedicated his life to advocating for strong conservation policies, organizing networks, and growing and developing organizations. Richard has served for over two decades as the affiliate representative to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) with a collaborative spirit and a positive attitude that leaves a lasting impact on others. Richard’s work on clean water, high-quality trout habitat, and vibrant forests has made a measurable impact on the wildlife resources of the Southeast. Through his years with NCWF, TU, and NWF, Richard has been heavily involved in fights to save rivers and overhaul hydropower management decisions so they account for wildlife and fishery resources, minimizing the impacts of timber and mining operations on fish and wildlife by federal and state agencies, defending public lands, and advocating for effective air and water quality legislation. He has spearheaded efforts to engage the agriculture and forestry communities on wildlife and habitat issues related to climate change, including longleaf pine restoration, biomass, early succession habitat management, and carbon sequestration. Richard’s chief goal has always been to bring hunters, anglers, and wildlife enthusiasts to the public policy arena to protect the special places and wildlife resources in America. He believes the passion, ethics, and knowledge that hunters, fishermen, and wildlife enthusiasts bring to the table is a necessary ingredient to making good policy decisions. Richard’s decades-long support of NCWF and NWF initiatives is unwavering. The only dedication that trumps this commitment is to his family. Richard is an immense inspiration to his children and grandchildren – his “grand girls” – and they no doubt have developed their love of the outdoors through him. 
June 12, 2017 by Lacey McCormick

Shared from:  National Wildlife Federation - http://www.nwf.org/news-and-magazines/media-center/news-by-topic/general-nwf/2017/6-12-17-richard-mode-national-conservation-leadership-award.aspx

RI Board Member to Receive National Wildlife Federation Award

Resource Institute Board Member, G. Richard Mode will receive the Conservation Leadership Award at the 2017 National Wildlife Federation Annual Meeting. Richard has served as a North Carolina Wildlife Federation board member for more than two decades, mobilizing sportspeople and wildlife enthusiast to promote conservation policy that protects waters and forests in the Southeast. (National Wildlife Federation June/July 2017 Vol. 55 No.4)

National organization will help McDowell with greenway effort

By MIKE CONLEY nconley@mcdowellnews.com

A non-profit organization in Winston-Salem, which has a national focus on conservation, stream restoration and environmental education, will assist McDowell County in finding the necessary money to complete the next phase of the Catawba River greenway.

“We’re going to be working together for the next few years,” said Michael “Squeak” Smith, chairman of Resource Institute, to county officials.

For years, McDowell County officials have planned to continue the Joseph McDowell Historical Catawba Greenway. The city of Marion, with help from the McDowell Trails Association and state funds, completed the first two phases of the greenway. The county contributed $10,000 to the construction of the greenway loop around Round Hill and $45,000 towards second phase of the greenway. The third phase will be more of a county project but the city has pledged $40,000 towards this next section. The idea is to someday continue that trail westward.

For years, McDowell County officials have planned to continue the Joseph McDowell Historical Catawba Greenway. The city of Marion, with help from the McDowell Trails Association and state funds, completed the first two phases of the greenway. The third phase will be a county project and the idea is to someday continue that trail westward.

On Monday, the commissioners heard from Smith who talked about how his organization can help them find the necessary money for this ambitious effort.

Based in Winston-Salem, Resource Institute has its mission to enhance America’s natural resources by restoring streams, rivers and wetlands. This organization partners with other non-profits, local governments, private groups and civic-minded people to help bring natural resource-based projects to a successful completion.

“Resource Institute helps define the project and find funding sources,” reads a brochure. “We coordinate conceptual planning, design and engineering. We overview daily, on-the-ground construction management and manage grant reporting requirements. And most important, Resource Institute assures project completion.”

Resource Institute worked in McDowell before on the Muddy Creek restoration effort. It has done more than 80 projects during the last five years and has worked in five states.

“We do work nationally but most of our work is in North Carolina,” said Smith to the commissioners.

For McDowell County, Resource Institute will assist the greenway effort by finding and securing funding. The organization will do grant writing, research funding opportunities and assist McDowell with finding other sources of money for the next phase.

Under an agreement, McDowell County government will pay Resource Institute 10 percent of the total grant awarded to the county that the organization has helped secure. McDowell will pay Resource Institute within 30 days of the grant availability or when the project funds are awarded.

“Once we get the dollars for you, then you will pay for our service,” said Smith to the commissioners.

Resource Institute will assist the county with project closeout paperwork and will make a final billing to the county for the remainder once the project is completed.

Once the grant or other funding is awarded, then the county will be responsible for how it is used.

At Monday’s meeting, representatives of the McDowell Trails Association were there to state their support of this partnership. MTA President Frank Dean said his association is getting ready to work with the county on the first part of the third phase.

This first part will be the Catawba River Park on Old Greenlee Road, which is owned by the county but has been damaged due to flooding and vandalism. The plans for improving this park include adding horseshoe pits, a dog park, better picnic tables, an improved canoe launch and a fishing pier.

“We appreciate the community support on this project,” said Dean. “We fully support this operation.”

County officials said they are looking forward to working with Resource Institute and beginning the third phase. County Manager Ashley Wooten said the work on the Catawba River Park will begin in the late summer or early fall.

“We’re excited to reinvigorate that property through the construction of the greenway and the associated improvements,” said Wooten on Wednesday.

“We are committed to trails,” said Commission Chairman David Walker. “We need safe, quality places for people to exercise.”

Walker referred to how McDowell recently ranked among other North Carolina counties when it comes to health.

In an annual report about health, McDowell County ranked at 62nd out of 100 counties in North Carolina. This places McDowell below the average for the rest of the state when it comes to health and wellbeing of local residents, according to the report.

“That’s not bad but we can improve,” said Walker.

Shared from: http://www.mcdowellnews.com/news/national-organization-will-help-mcdowell-with-greenway-effort/article_d6ad08e0-2b88-11e7-9eb7-6fbf1157767d.html

NC Shore Getting Help from Newest Technology

May 4, 2017

Reefmakers are made of limestone, which provides a porous yet durable substance to place along the tidal coastline. (Atlantic Reefmaker)

Reefmakers are made of limestone, which provides a porous yet durable substance to place along the tidal coastline. (Atlantic Reefmaker)

OUTER BANKS, N.C. -- Erosion of North Carolina's shoreline is a growing problem, as development, boating traffic and extreme weather deplete the natural protections of estuaries and marine habitat. But the newest technology in artificial reefs is set to change that, and it's already being used in parts of the state. 

Reefmaker is a trademarked product made of natural limestone recently used in the Bonner Bridge mitigation on Pamlico Sound near Cape Hatteras. Darrell Westmoreland, owner of Atlantic Reefmaker, said the invention fills a big gap in shoreline protection.

"All of our sounds, all of our estuaries are being heavily impacted due to sea-level rise. The other is more boating traffic, more fishing pressure,” Westmoreland said. "There's just not the cover that's there, so the Reefmaker systems create shoreline protection."

Westmoreland and his company are beginning a project in Brunswick to protect Fort Anderson. 

More than 40,000 Reefmakers have been installed around the country, but these are the first two systems in North Carolina. The nonprofit Resource Institute - an organization that connects public dollars with private enterprise - is in the process of finding additional public funds to finance future projects.

Other versions of artificial reefs are placed on the sea floor, but they can damage the habitat for the animals that live there. Reefmakers are suspended at varying heights to work best with the local ecosystem. 

Westmoreland said in addition to providing shield for marine life, there are other benefits for the shoreline and the community.

"We can get these installed on our inlets for inlet protection, protect marinas to break up the wind and wake action that hits our marinas where our commercial and recreational boaters keep their boats,” he explained. "So there's an endless amount of things that we can do with the system. "

There are 3,300 miles of tidal shoreline in North Carolina. The north-south pattern of sand and sediment created by the position in the Atlantic Ocean creates extra wear and tear on the shoreline, and the Outer and Core Banks take extra erosion with their exposure to high winds.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC

From Public News Service - http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2017-05-04/water/nc-shore-getting-help-from-newest-technology/a57554-1

Record $16 million to save WNC Farms, Streams

by Karen Chávez, Citizen-Times, Published Jan. 10, 2017

ASHEVILLE - It's funny how the best farmland in Western North Carolina always seems to be right in the path of a housing or business development. 

Well, maybe it's not so curious. Like the saying goes - location, location, location. And locations for the best farmland are the rich, fertile bottomlands along river valleys. Because of its rare, flat terrain in the mountains, and usually adjacent to roads, bottomlands also make the best location for building construction. 

So the decades-old conflict continues, with a loss of nearly 700 farms in WNC between 2007 and 2012, totaling some 15,000 acres, threatening the region's food security and water quality. 

But an unprecedented award of $8 million of federal funding for farmland conservation to Blue Ridge Forever, an Asheville-based coalition of 10 local land trusts, is expected to make large strides to stop the hemorrhaging of farmland from the mountains. 

The award for Blue Ridge Forever's "Forever Farms: Easements at the Eminence" project from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service is allocated through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which the conservation service began three years ago as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. 

"It's a record amount of funding for Blue Ridge Forever and a record for land protection in Western North Carolina," said Jess Laggis, Blue Ridge Forever director. 

Land trust protects valuable farmland, vistas, heritage 

It's quite the coup since the Regional Conservation Partnership Program is so new, Laggis said, and rare to find a source that is granting such large funds. She said it took the land conservation groups a year to create the proposal, based on the power of partnership. It took years of relationship building among the land trusts, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and bipartisan support from members of the General Assembly and Congress, she said. 

Farmland in WNC is getting a double whammy of help from the conservation program in the form of stream restoration and water quality improvements with another record $8 million award to Resource Institute Inc.  

Resource Institute is a nonprofit based in Winston-Salem that works to enhance water quality and stream restoration nationally and specifically in 33 WNC counties, said Squeak Smith, chairman of the board. 

The organization was awarded $7 million from the conservation partnership program's national pool for "The Western North Carolina Stream and Water Quality Initiative" project and another $1 million from the program's state fund. 

"We're very excited about it. The farmers love it. Their projects typically receive $150,000-$300,000 of money for their restoration projects," Smith said. "Water quality is being improved, habitat in stream and on land is being improved, it creates wildlife corridors along the streams, trout water is being improved, and the protected riparian areas are also good for insects, for bees and butterflies." 

Box Creek Wilderness permanently protected 

Resource Institute provides project oversight and grant administration, working with county Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Natural Resources Conservation Service field staff and local farmers on projects to stabilize streams and prevent bank erosion by planting native grasses and shrubs, and reducing runoff from cattle waste and sediment into streams. 

Resource Institute was also awarded $1 million in 2014 and 2015 from conservation partnership grants, Smith said, so there are many projects already accomplished and underway on mountain farms. 

Farms forever 

"One of the victories of this funding is that it obligates $8 million to be used exclusively for purchase of agricultural conservation easements in WNC," said William Hamilton, farmland program director for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, an Asheville land trust and member of Blue Ridge Forever. "Securing $8 million for Western North Carolina changes things in a dramatic way for us.".

“We are beside ourselves at the funding to keep mountain farms farming, and so gratified the region is receiving national recognition for its importance as a freshwater source for the Southeast,” Laggis said. Blue Ridge Forever plans to use the $8 million for “Forever Farms” to protect mountain farms from a change in land use through voluntary agricultural conservation easements. 

Through these easements, farmers give up the development rights of their property to ensure the land remains forever as farmland. In turn, they receive funding to help with their farming operations, Laggis said. The Southern Blue Ridge Mountains also contain the headwater sources of drinking water for millions of people throughout the Southeast, in nine river basins. “By ensuring that clean water flows off of farms at the headwaters, drinking water downstream remains cleaner,” she said. 

The WNC land conservation partners will be targeting prime soils with the Forever Farms program. Prime soils are an “extremely limited resource in the Appalachian mountains,” Laggis said, since they comprise only 3.6 percent of the landmass of WNC. Prime soils is a national level designation of the quality of soil that refers to its potential productivity. They are typically found near rivers and are very old, formed through millennia of decomposition of leaves and biomass. 

In the mountains, the only lands with prime soils are in bottomlands, not on ridges or mountaintops. But not all bottomlands have prime soils, Laggis said. “It’s safe to say that all of WNC’s unprotected prime soils are threatened,” she said. “The closer a parcel lies in proximity to a population center, the greater the threat becomes. The larger the parcel, the more likely it will be subdivided at some point.”

Protecting prime soils protects the apple and tomato crops, the cattle and even trout. It protects food security, cultural heritage and the scenic views of farms. Since 2006, Blue Ridge Forever has protected more than 20,000 acres of farmland. Examples include recent work by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy to protect the 320-acre Reeves Homeplace Farm in Madison County and the 90-acre Watalula Farm in the Sandy Mush area. 

North Carolina was leading the country in farm loss in 2007, according to the 2012 agricultural census. But the process slowed in 2012 as the building boom slowed. As of 2012, there were about 12,200 farms in the 25 counties of WNC, encompassing 1,059,000 acres. 

Laggis said she wouldn’t be surprised to see more farmland lost when the next agricultural, taken every five years, is released this year.