The Gratification in Seeing People Staying Connected to Their River

I am so thankful for the opportunity I had as a Stanback Intern this summer. The field and office experiences I gained from working with the Lumber River Conservancy (LRC) and the Conservation Trust of North Carolina (CTNC) have been extremely valuable for me as I now begin working on my last year as a DEL MEM candidate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment.

Growing up in North Carolina my entire life, I thought I had seen most everything beautiful from the lush green mountains in the west to the fragile barrier islands fringing the Atlantic Ocean. But after visiting and working around the small sand hills and piedmont towns of Lumberton, Wagram, and Whitsett, North Carolina, I realized I had so much more to see. My summer work started here in my hometown of Durham when I got to meet Trish Sellers, my Supervisor in charge of the Lumber River Conservancy. I learned I would conduct monitoring studies, amend the working landholdings LRC database, and post LRC signs on the land tracts and easements that they own and manage. I hit the road and traveled to Lumberton. June was an extremely wet month for Lumberton as I saw the beautiful black tannin waters of the Lumber River for the first time running way out of its banks. Every site I visited was literally under water, so I was only able to perform some partial land monitoring assessments on that visit. But seeing this beautiful wild and scenic river running through awesome cypress trees and lily pads for the first time made me truly appreciate the important work I would be performing in and around Lumberton for the summer.

The next place I visited was in Whitsett, North Carolina. It was here I met Mr. Rusty Painter, Land Director for the Conservation Trust of North Carolina. Our job was to perform a site monitoring assessment for Ms. Carolyn Toben, owner of an incredible piece of property situated on her homestead and the Center for Education, Imagination, and the Natural World. She invited me to come back and visit her anytime to discuss her work with Thomas Berry, my favorite author and philosopher. That was a very special morning, which got even better as I toured and worked on the beautiful property with Rusty and the crew.

I was able to work at the Conservation Trust of North Carolina office in Raleigh during Monday staff meetings where I was able to report in to the staff on my working progress in Lumberton. I even got to monitor one of their land tracts way out in Wagram near the headwaters of the Lumber River in Hoke County in July. After finally figuring out where the land was, way out in the country, I was able to take in the beauty of a well-managed longleaf pine forest plantation and row-crop fields as I monitored the site. The landowner of the property was incredibly open with me in talking about their family history on this plot of land. I even got to visit their family cemetery on the property.

On another trip in Lumberton in July, I got to talk with a gentleman who owned a tract of land beside the land tract I was assessing. His meat packing plant was situated right along the river. I invited him to visit the LRC site and consider adding his land to the LRC for environmental protection purposes. He said he would seriously consider this option. Surprisingly, he then gave me a personal aerial photograph of his property taken by a friend from a glider with the Lumber River in the background during the flood of Hurricane Floyd. It was awesome getting to know some of the local people in Lumberton as I worked the land parcels. Seeing firsthand how those people value their land along the Lumber River gave me a great feeling that I was doing some pretty important work this summer. From the gratification I now have in seeing people staying connected to their river, I now have an even better perspective in understanding Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic.

Eric L. McDuffie - Duke Nicholas School of the Environment