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North Carolina’s Local Land Trusts Present Annual Awards to Conservation Leaders

Senator Harry Brown, Bull City Running, Town of Davidson, Muddy Sneakers, Tim Sweeney, Louis Moore Bacon, and former state employees honored by NC land trusts for promoting conservation

A legislator protecting the state’s conservation trust funds, a local business known for its efforts to get people out on trails, a town dedicated to preserving open space, a thriving nonprofit that develops future conservationists, a dedicated conservationist passionate about protecting the eastern Blue Ridge Mountains and Foothills, and a philanthropist dedicated to conserving and protecting land both locally and nationally, have been honored by North Carolina’s land trusts for their work.

Senator Harry Brown, Bull City Running in Durham, the town of Davidson, Muddy Sneakers in Brevard, Tim Sweeney, and Louis Moore Bacon are the 2014 recipients of awards given by North Carolina’s 24 local land trusts to individuals and organizations that have achieved major accomplishments in land and water protection. In addition, the land trusts honored several former state employees for their dedication to land and water conservation across our state and for safeguarding our unique natural heritage and quality of life.

The NC Land Trust awards are given to businesses, nonprofit organizations, governments and individuals who lead efforts to protect the state’s streams and lakes, forests, farms, parkland and wildlife habitat, thereby protecting clean drinking water and air quality, local food, and outdoor recreation. The awards were announced Monday night, April 28th, at the annual North Carolina Land Trust Assembly at the Trinity Center in Pine Knoll Shores.

Legislator of the Year: Senator Harry Brown
Nominated by Conservation Trust for North Carolina and North Carolina Coastal Land Trust

As NC Senate Majority Leader and Senior Appropriations Committee Chairman, Senator Harry Brown (R-Jones, Onslow) has been a leader in protecting the state’s conservation trust funds and advancing tax incentives for land conservation. In 2013, Senator Brown was the Land for Tomorrow coalition’s main champion on conservation funding issues. He opposed efforts to eliminate or restrict the state’s conservation trust funds, and led an initiative in the Senate to streamline the trust funds and stabilize their funding source. Senator Brown supported maintaining the functions of the Natural Heritage Trust Fund (NHTF) under the reorganized Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF).

Senator Brown continues to be a strong supporter of the NC State Parks system and the NC Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF). Despite Senator Brown’s efforts, the General Assembly eliminated dedicated revenue streams for PARTF and NHTF and other non-conservation programs. However, Senator Brown fought hard to maintain stable funding levels and recurring appropriations for CWMTF and PARTF, and to focus more of the available funding on land conservation projects.

In addition, Senator Brown has supported efforts to protect our state’s military bases from incompatible land uses. He has been a strong proponent of land and easement acquisition funding for buffers around military bases, which also help protect water quality, wildlife habitat and farmland. “Senator Brown has a deep appreciation for our natural lands and waterways, and knows first-hand the importance of conservation to the local economy. Senator Brown understands the connections between conservation and agriculture, tourism, the military, and hunting and fishing – all important economic drivers in his community,” said Edgar Miller, Government Relations Director for the Conservation Trust for North Carolina.

Corporate Conservation Partner of the Year: Bull City Running
Nominated by The LandTrust for Central NC, Eno River Association, NC Rail-Trails, and the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail

Bull City Running is an extraordinary partner to North Carolina land trusts. Each year, Bull City Running organizes four events that highlight the protected lands and essential work of four partner organizations, and then donates the proceeds from each event to the organization. These running events bring greater awareness to the work of land trusts and provide much needed funding. Bull City Running coordinates these runs with The LandTrust for Central NC, the Eno River Association, NC Rail-Trails, and the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

“Bull City Running is a first rate organization and brings nothing but positive publicity for the trails and the work of the land conservation groups that it puts these races together to benefit. We are thrilled to see Bull City Running receive the 2014 North Carolina Land Trust Corporate Conservation Partner Award,” said Crystal Cockman, Associate Director with The LandTrust for Central NC.

The Uwharrie Mountain Run, now in its 23rd year, benefits The LandTrust for Central NC. It has 8 mile, 20 mile and 40 mile option. This race, held in February, was voted best trail run in the southeast by Competitor magazine. The Eno River Run will be held in October this year; this beautiful trail run, with 6 mile and 11 mile options, features the work the Eno River Association is doing at Eno River State Park. Bull City Running also hosts a 5K in the fall to benefit NC Rail-Trails, and a 50K and 12-mile trail run at Falls Lake in March to benefit the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

Government Conservation Partner of the Year: Town of Davidson
Nominated by Davidson Lands Conservancy

The town of Davidson embraces the preservation of open space, has hundreds of acres of parks and miles of greenways, is bicycle and pedestrian friendly, and values the overall health of its citizens. The town’s planning ordinance, which received the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Smart Growth Award in 2004, makes specific recommendations about maintaining and preserving open space. Among the core values identified in the plan are preserving undeveloped rural areas, working with neighboring jurisdictions to preserve contiguous and valuable open space, protecting scenic views along greenways and roads in rural areas, and monitoring and minimizing development impacts on significant ecosystems.

Roy Alexander, Executive Director of Davidson Lands Conservancy, is proud that the town recognizes the benefits of, and its responsibility for, providing green infrastructure. “Through its development ordinances, stream buffer protections, tree canopy policies, and other progressive actions, the Town will continue to pursue its adopted goal of protecting 50% of its area as open space. We are thankful for the town’s commitment to open space and natural areas and look forward to helping the town reach its goal.” The town currently has 167 acres of developed park land and 3.8 miles of developed greenway. It owns 246 additional acres and has committed to three more miles of greenway. Between publicly-owned and privately-owned conservation easements, nearly 700 contiguous acres are protected in Davidson. In addition, the town of Davidson received Tree City USA Recertification for 2013 and was designated as a Walk Friendly Community, joining the ranks with 44 other pedestrian-friendly communities around the country.

Community Conservation Partner of the Year: Muddy Sneakers
Nominated by Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy

Muddy Sneakers brings 5th grade students onto nearby protected lands with the goal of introducing them to the wonders of the natural world through a science curriculum using experiential methods. Muddy Sneakers strives to create in children a life-long love of nature and to do it in a way that enhances academic achievement, inspires the joy of living, and instills an understanding of the interconnectedness of all things. Among young students, Muddy Sneakers’ environment-based education has been shown to produce gains in social studies, science, language arts, and math, improve standardized test scores and grade-point averages, and develop skills in problem-solving, critical thinking and decision-making.

Muddy Sneakers is in its seventh year of bringing an experiential format to teaching science at participating public schools across western North Carolina. Muddy Sneakers began as a pilot program in the spring of 2007 with Brevard and Pisgah Forest Elementary Schools in Transylvania County, and has grown each year. This year marks the largest season to date, with 18 participating schools representing four counties: Transylvania, Henderson, Buncombe and McDowell. Muddy Sneakers has provided educational opportunities that have helped connect thousands of young people with the outdoors and helped shape them into the conservationists of the future.

Kieran Roe, Executive Director of the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, believes that the work being done by Muddy Sneakers plays an important role in connecting youth with nature. “Muddy Sneakers is an innovator in designing curricula that inspire a love of the outdoors in schoolchildren while improving their academic performance. CMLC is proud to be a partner with Muddy Sneakers in promoting a conservation ethic among the next generation.”

Stanback Volunteer Conservationist of the Year: Tim Sweeney
Nominated by Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina

Since 2011, Tim Sweeney has wholeheartedly dedicated himself and considerable personal financial resources to acquiring large tracts of land to achieve ecological connectivity and landscape-scale conservation between the South Mountains and the Blue Ridge Escarpment, a critical wildlife corridor and one of Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina’s primary protection focus areas. He has also made similar conservation-minded acquisitions in western North Carolina and in Chatham County.

Sweeney’s earliest land acquisitions, in the heart of this conservation corridor, now make up the 5,185-acre Box Creek Wilderness, a registered State Significant Natural Area. Since securing Box Creek, Sweeney has coordinated closely with Foothills Conservancy and systematically acquired other highly significant tracts across this corridor, which Foothills Conservancy, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and NC State Parks have long sought to protect.

In 2012, Sweeney provided the resources necessary for Foothills Conservancy to complete the “South Mountains to Blue Ridge Corridor Analysis” which defined the boundaries of this critical conservation corridor and identified key acquisition goals. At Foothills’ request, he also bought a critical 2,100-acre property that borders three miles of South Mountains State Park, and signed a purchase option with the land trust giving them three years to raise funds to buy it at the price he paid.

“North Carolinians today and for centuries to come are very fortunate that Tim Sweeney has stepped forward at this particular time to protect our region’s mountain forests, creeks, rocky outcrops and all that is wild and wonderful within them,” said Susie Hamrick Jones, Executive Director of the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina.

Stanback Volunteer Conservationist of the Year: Louis Moore Bacon
Nominated by North Carolina Coastal Land Trust

Louis Moore Bacon is an inspirational advocate for conservation and the protection of natural resources. Raised with an appreciation for the outdoors, Bacon developed a respect for the natural world, which has driven his enthusiasm for land and water conservation. In 1992, he created the Moore Charitable Foundation to support organizations that preserve and protect wildlife habitat. The foundation has provided significant funding to more than 200 local, national and international conservation organizations.

Louis Bacon’s philanthropy has had a great impact on North Carolina. He first worked with the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust by preserving 31 acres on Ocracoke Island; this tract is now Springer’s Point Nature Preserve, one of NC Coastal Land Trust’s most popular public preserves. In one of the largest conservation easement gifts in its history, the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust announced in January 2014 that Orton Plantation Holdings, LLC, owned by Bacon, had donated more than 6,442 acres at Orton Plantation. The conservation easement was given in December 2013 and followed the expansion of the historic boundary of Orton Plantation by including the woodlands, agricultural fields, restored rice fields, water courses and gardens on an adjacent 1,100 acres that are part of a new nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

The conservation easement is characterized by a variety of natural features, including forestland, creeks, streams and ponds. Conserved forestland includes stands of Longleaf Pine and wiregrass; mixed Longleaf and Loblolly Pine; and, Cypress-gum Swamp. Wildlife habitat includes the federally endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, quail, wild turkey, and other upland game birds.”

“Louis Moore Bacon is uniquely qualified to be recognized as one of the inheritors of Fred Stanback’s conservation legacy. His donation of a conservation easement over more than 6,442 acres at Orton Plantation is one of the most significant conservation donations in the history of the Coastal Land Trust,” said Camilla Herlevich, Executive Director of the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust.

Former State Employees Honored by all Land Trusts

North Carolina’s land trusts also recognized nine former state employees for their many years of dedication and commitment to conservation across our state — former Natural Heritage Program Director Linda Pearsall and staff members Shawn Oakley, Janine Nicholson, Bruce Sorrie, Ann Prince, and Steve Hall; former Natural Heritage Trust Fund Director Lisa Riegel; and former NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund Director Richard Rogers and staff member Christopher Fipps.

The motto of the NC Natural Heritage Program is “Science Guiding Conservation.” The staff’s expertise in identifying natural communities and rare species has allowed the land trusts to prioritize conservation efforts to make the most of limited funds and manage properties to maintain and enhance forests, streams, working farms, and scenic vistas.

With recent state budget cuts, six Natural Heritage Program staff are no longer with the agency. The NC Natural Heritage Trust Fund, which funded acquisition of significant natural heritage areas, was dissolved, though its functions were transferred to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. The Clean Water Management Trust Fund is a major source of conservation funding to preserve water quality; it has similarly faced substantial budget cuts.

“North Carolina’s local land trusts are forever indebted to the state agencies and staff members who so expertly worked to ensure that conservation efforts protected the best of the best natural areas throughout our state, for the benefit of all North Carolina families,” said Reid Wilson, Executive Director of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina.