Keeping the waterways intact

November 9, 2013

PEMBROKE — The Lumber River is a meandering black water river that runs for 115 miles through five counties before becoming part of the Little Pee Dee River.

It is one of five in North Carolina to be designated Wild and Scenic by the National River System. There are 194 river miles in the state that meet this designation and 81 miles belong to the Lumber River.

As a land trust, the Lumber River Conservancy acquires land and conservation easements along the river as a means of protecting it. The conservancy was established in 1991 by two former Lumberton residents: Carr Gibson, a land owner and forester, and Dickson McLean, an attorney. The 15-member board of directors includes The University of North Carolina at Pembroke Chancellor Kyle R. Carter. Former UNCP Chancellor Joe Oxendine is a trustee emeritus, and biology professor Andy Ash is an ex-officio member of the board.

The university’s relationship with the vonservancy goes back to its origins and continues today. Patricia Sellers, a member of the faculty of the Biology Department, is the Lumber River Conservancy director. A freshwater scientist with 15 years of experience working with nonprofit environmental organizations, she is well suited to the job. Ash served at its scientific advisor when the conservancy was founded.

This fall, Sellers discussed the Lumber River Conservancy and their work with Scott Bigelow the public information officer at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Question: First of all, what is so special about the Lumber River?

Answer: Many things. It’s the only river in eastern North Carolina that doesn’t have any dams or structures impeding flow. That alone makes it worth preserving. In rivers, natural flow patterns are important in preserving their natural state.

Second, it is closely tied to the identity, culture and history of the Lumbee people. I don’t know of any other river in the region for which that claim can be made.

Third, it is a fantastic river to paddle. The headwaters in Scotland and Hoke counties will challenge your paddling technique while the lower reaches are more accommodating if you are looking for gentle “float” down the river.

Fourth, It’s beautiful and peaceful – most of the river is buffered by swamp, so when you are on the water, the roads and their traffic tend to fade away, replaced by sounds of the water and wildlife.

Question: How did you become involved with the conservancy?

Answer: I came to UNCP during the year that the LRC received several land acquisition grants, the management of which was going to require a lot of work. They needed help (LRC is volunteer-driven), and this opportunity for community service appealed to me.

Question: What kind of things do you do as the executive director?

Answer: A variety of things over the course of a semester. I meet with land owners, manage acquisitions or other projects, serve on committees, communicate among board members, draft and review documents, give presentations, organize meetings, manage interns etc.

Question: How is the Conservancy preserving the river?

Answer: We do this by acquiring land or conservation easements along it or its tributaries. Most of the land is swamp, which doesn’t have a lot of commercial value but has extraordinary ecological value. It is because of the swamp that the water quality in the river is quite good for most of its length.

Question: It is true that the North Carolina legislature is repealing the conservation tax credit program?

Answer: Yes, unfortunately. You can imagine that all 24 North Carolina land trusts and their supporters are perplexed by that decision.

Question: The conservancy has protected about 4,000 acres. Is all of that along the river?

Answer: Most of it is. We have some tracts inland, the largest being the Singleton’s Bay tract in Hoke County. This is a forested Carolina bay that was acquired through grants and a donation by Z.V. Pate of Scotland County. We are proud to be able to put a Carolina bay and its unique habitat into permanent protection.

Question: How does the Lumber River Conservancy protect the properties from unwanted activities, such as illegal logging or dumping?

Answer: That’s a bit of a challenge. We do monitoring on our tracts and post LRC signs. If we see anything that is a violation of stewardship, we go from there – sometimes that means removing deer stands or signs saying that we intend to. Our president has an airplane and pilot’s license and we can do some surveying by air.

Question: Can the public use the land?

Answer: Access is limited and only on request. We don’t have the resources to open up our land to the general public. However, several parcels, once owned by LRC, were donated to the Lumber River State Park in Scotland and Robeson counties for public use. The Conservancy’s partnership with the state has been an important one for everyone.

Questions: Does the university and its students use conservancy land for education and research?

Answer: Most definitely. The two tracts that are used most for both teaching field labs and ecological research by several faculty are the Singleton’s Bay tract and a tract on the river near UNCP that we call Sampson’s Landing.

Question: In the long view, what are the goals of the Lumber River Conservancy?

Answer: The vision is to have the entire Lumber River corridor permanently protected, either under the banner of the Lumber River Conservancy or the Lumber River State Park. We have donated some tracts to the Lumber River State Park to help them with their mission.

To get involved or donate land or money to the Lumber River Conservancy, call 910-522-5751.