The North Carolina Coastal Federation has been in the process of restoring the North River Wetlands Preserve back to its original state since 1999 after the area was used as farmland.
“It was all drained and ditched and cleared, so essentially what we’re doing is filling those ditches to hold the water back on the land and then also creating wildlife habitat at the same time through some wetland cells and mudflat habitat” Coastal specialist, Bree Charron, said.
The Federation has gone through 11 stages of restoration and the final phases are officially underway.
“We are on the final 2,000 acres out of 6,000, so already 4,000 acres over the last 16 years of active restoration work,” Charron said. “Most of that has been done further up the watershed closer to North River.”
With the help of multiple federal agencies, researchers, and volunteers, more than 1 million trees and wetland plants have been planted over the last 20 years. Said the restoration of the wetlands is important for the wildlife in the area including black bears, bobcats, shorebirds, and otters.
“We are actually producing a lot of the habitat they need for wintering, breeding, and that sort of thing, so it’s a large piece of habitat that is pretty uncommon in our developed coastline,” Charron said.
The executive director of the Coastal Federation, Todd Miller, said when the land was being farmed, it had a drainage system that allowed water to run off in about two hours when in more natural conditions it would take months. That’s why it is important to restore and allow water to stay on the land, infiltrate, and not reach waterways.
“This land is really the kidneys for the coastal waters,” Miller said. “It regulates the flow of the runoff and it keeps the salinity and our estuaries more stable. It keeps The bacteria and other pollutants out.”
“We want to keep them safe and healthy safe for everyone who uses them whether that’s recreational fishermen, recreational users, like kayakers, swimmers, or even our commercial fisheries,” Charron said.
The Coastal Federation expects the final phases of restoration to be completed by fall of this year.
“Hopefully will be done and there won’t be any hurricanes and will be able to show it off at the very end of October,” Charron said.