High-quality Carolina bay may be added to state parks system

A forested Carolina bay in Robeson County could be preserved within the state parks system, thanks to a partnership with Audubon North Carolina and The Conservation Fund. The 977 acres of Warwick Mill Bay near Lumberton is a significant nesting site for the federally-threatened wood stork and other wading birds.

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Warwick Mill Bay has the distinctive oval shape of all Carolina bays and is covered by forest and wetlands.

The Conservation Fund recently purchased the property in the Lumber River Basin and will transfer it to North Carolina State Parks for possible designation as a state natural area once a grant from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund is available. Significant funding for the $1.3 million acquisition has been provided by the North Carolina Environmental Enhancement Grants Program, the Cleanwater Management Trust Fund, and generous private support from Fred and Alice Stanback.

Warwick Mill Bay is one of the state’s few remaining large, relatively undisturbed Carolina bays. Several state parks are located on Carolina bays including Lake Waccamaw, Singletary Lake and Jones Lake, and some smaller, dry bays are located within southeastern parks.

“The size and diversity of Warwick Mill Bay makes it important alone,” said Walker Golder of the National Audubon Society. “Few large Carolina bays remain in a relatively undisturbed state. Protecting this large Carolina bay will preserve this unique natural feature along with its wetlands, many species of birds, and other wildlife that occur in the bay.”

Audubon NC plans to work closely with North Carolina State Parks to develop a long-term conservation and management plan for the property to preserve its ecology, water quality and cultural values.

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Wood stork, a federally-threatened wading bird species.

“A recent survey of wading birds revealed this land is far more important for bird conservation than we thought,” said Curtis Smalling of Audubon North Carolina. “An overflight of the property by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission revealed an estimated 250 breeding pairs of federally-threatened wood storks, making it one of the largest wood stork colonies in North Carolina and one of the most significant in the southeastern US. Protecting this land will go a long way in helping preserve this species.”

 “The Warwick Mill Bay has been a conservation priority for the state for the last three years because of the high quality breeding habitat it provides, and we are honored to help facilitate its purchase to meet the needs and the goals of North Carolina State Parks and Audubon NC,” said Bill Holman, The Conservation Fund’s North Carolina state director.

Warwick Mill Bay was famous in the mid-20th Century for its very large wading bird colony. Along with the wood stork, the colony consists of white ibis, great egret, little blue heron, cattle egret, snowy egret, great blue heron and green heron.

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