AmeriCorps member prods landowners to help protect New River

(Submitted by Abby Van de Bogert, AmeriCorps program director in the N.C. Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs.)

Darius Pollard, is one of several AmeriCorps members serving at North Carolina state parks this summer and clearly embodies the organization’s pledge to “get things done.”

Cleared riverbank is scenic, but natural areas with heavy vegetation to more to protect water quality
Cleared riverbank is scenic, but natural areas with heavy vegetation do more to protect water quality.

As Pollard began his term of service at New River State Park, he saw an opportunity to educate the public in a way that would benefit the park and the river. The park regularly monitors riparian conservation easements along the waterway’s south fork, designated a national Wild and Scenic River. These easements often serve as riparian buffers – riverbank property protected from development, which helps maintain water quality.

As the park monitored these areas, they found some properties had been clear-cut and mowed, reducing the buffers’ ability to protect the river. Unfortunately, the park had no resources to reach out and educate the landowners or to assist in restoring the riparian buffers.

Pollard developed a campaign to reach out to these landowners, writing letters to those whose easements were in need of restoration, describing the benefits of natural riparian buffer zones and the environmental consequences of clearing those areas. “The biggest surprise was the feedback I received from sending the letters,” he said. “I got seven calls within the first week and a half, and everyone wanted to learn more.”

AmeriCorps member Darius Pollard
AmeriCorps member Darius Pollard

Through a partnership with the nonprofit National Committee for the New River, Pollard arranged for funding to share the cost of restoration with the landowners. Pollard now meets regularly with the organization’s restoration director, Lynn Caldwell, to review property conditions and to help create land management plans and cost estimates for landowners interested in restoring their riparian buffers.

Since sending the letters in early May, Pollard has already had four landowners begin the voluntary restoration. More property restorations are in the design and approval process. “I halfway expected landowners to be upset that I was trying to tell them what do with their own property,” Pollard said, “And in a way, I wouldn’t blame them. In this case, however, everyone is downstream. “

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