I’m not exactly sure when it entered the family’s possession, but I know that my paternal grandparents owned a 55-acre island full of cypress trees in the Black River in eastern North Carolina. That land was passed down to my dad, and when he died, my mother and I made the decision to donate the land to the North Carolina Nature Conservancy in the hopes that they would preserve the trees on it in perpetuity.
Now I’m hearing news from North Carolina that a bill has passed the state House and is now before the state Senate that would take some of the Nature Conservancy land in and around the Black River and turn it into the anchor for a proposed state park. The odds are fairly good that our island would be part of that new park. I haven’t seen actual plans but based on the description of the geography and the age of the trees on the island, it’s a decent bet that it’s included. The oldest tree on our former property is over 1,200 years old and one tree in the proposed park, not too far from the island, is called the Methuselah tree due to its advanced age – researchers have determined that the tree was living in 364 AD, while Emperor Valentinian I ruled the Roman Empire.
No one knew how old the trees were until the 1980s, when a university team came and took core samples from trees in the area, including trees on our property. The Nature Conservancy started to step in at that point, with land owners either selling or donating their property to help preserve the trees from developers. The land around the island and up and down that part of the river is very swampy, but the river itself is beautiful and eventually someone would have gotten the notion to clearcut and fill in the swamp around the river for some choice real estate developments. The Nature Conservancy, thankfully, stepped in to prevent that from happening.
It’s important to note that the Conservancy isn’t turning over even the majority of their land to the state for the purposes of creating the park. They’re donating some two thousand acres of land out of the over 15,000 acres they own, which means that even around the park there will be a buffer of Conservancy land continuing to stand undisturbed and undeveloped.
I’m overjoyed that the Nature Conservancy and state legislators are pursuing this path to protect the cypress trees in the area and share them with the public, and thrilled that my family might have contributed to its potential creation.