“Actions speak louder than words.” It is an old axiom. In many ways, it’s a lesson I am still learning: Pay attention to what people do and not be swayed by charming smiles, pretty words and pithy phrases.
Virginia Holman—a writer I admire very much—got my attention when she started a petition to improve Carolina Beach Lake. Sort of taking the “think globally, act locally” axiom to heart, alongside Tara Moore and Madison Ohmen of the NC Wildlife Federation and Lovers of the Lake, Holman wants to see the lake’s environmental conditions considered, enhanced and protected.
If anyone has read any of Holman’s nature writing, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. She is incredibly well informed, communicates information clearly, and is great at building connections rather than alienating.
Holman was kind enough to give encore some insight about how this project came to be and what she hopes the outcome will be.
encore (e): Whose idea was the Change.org petition? How did you become involved?
Virginia Holman (VH): The petition came about rather organically. One morning in June, my husband and I were taking our morning walk when we noticed two huge, old turtles called “sliders” trying desperately to get to the lake. Their path had been blocked by large boulders that recently had been installed to try to prevent an ongoing erosion issue, caused by a variety of problems related to stormwater, dredging, etc.
These turtles were huge, around 15-20 years old, and had been moving through the area for their entire lives. One was about the size of a ham platter and it was wedged, completely trapped, between the boulders. The other was teetering down the rocky bank, ready to flip and crack its shell wide open. I moved them, and then my husband and I posted something about it on a local Facebook forum called “Carolina Beach Town Forum.” I expressed my frustration at how the areas around the lake were being managed and told the story of the turtles. I fully expected the usual dumpster fire of ugliness and mean-spirited comments that one finds online. Instead, people expressed how much they cared about these issues, too—and not just environmentalists like me, but a real cross-section of the community. I realized maybe we could do something to contribute to the betterment of our community lake, so I started the petition.
e: What sort of response has the petition received from the public? Why now? Why are wetlands and habitat important to Carolina Beach now?
VH: The petition really caught on, and in a short period of time we gathered over 300 signatures—an attention-getting number for our small town, a place where elections are won or lost by a mere handful of votes. We have many signatures from Carolina Beach and island dwellers, as well as from those who visit and spend money in our community.
I petitioned for some habitat restoration and also offered information about how much money wildlife viewing brings in to the nation. As we know from the recent approval of The Great American Outdoors Act, outdoor recreation is nonpartisan, and maintaining our parks is essential for the economy of communities, especially places like Carolina Beach that depends heavily on outdoor tourism. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the southeast “outdoor recreation supports 1.1 million direct jobs that bring in 37.9 billion in wages to the region.” In 2011 birding in the United States brought in over 40 billion dollars in trips and equipment expenses. We’re a tourist town here in Carolina Beach, and unlike many other beach communities, we have two state parks and a natural freshwater lake, in addition to our beaches. Many people weren’t aware this lake is a natural lake because it is used as a stormwater management area and it will need to be dredged again. Because of this, the lake has competing needs. We’ve been in discussion with the town parks and rec and stormwater divisions, and have begun developing a proposal of the best areas for this project so [it will gain] town council’s approval. These things are always a compromise, but it’s just been great to see the town engage with us so willingly and transparently. We’re excited about the possibilities.
Our proposal has gained support from a number of terrific groups. The North Carolina Wildlife Federation has come forward and offered expertise, extensive free plants and trees, and wildlife structures. The North Carolina Cooperative Extension, NC SeaGrant and Lloyd Singleton of the NHC Arboretum are partnering with us, and helping us design the proposal with the input of Carolina Beach Parks and Rec and Stormwater divisions. We’ve also reached out to local groups with committed volunteer bases to help with our proposed native plant installation and ongoing cleanups. Cape Fear River Watch has signed on and many locals have also offered their support. It’s really exciting and heartening, especially during a time that finds many of us scared, isolated and frustrated by the pandemic and politics. It’s great to have a sort of town “victory garden” project that makes our community feel good, look good, and helps wildlife, water health and our bottom line.
Projects like this don’t happen every day! What a win this proposal is for our community. Free plants and trees, free labor, free environmental expertise, backing from so many established groups and tremendous community multi-partisan support. What’s not to love?
e: After you present to the town council, what will the next step?
VH: We’ll present to council in August, and if our proposal is approved, [we will] work out some specific timetables for when and what to plant and other parameters. Everyone we’ve been working with is very optimistic and encouraged. This is the sort of project that makes our town and its leaders look good.
e: How can people become involved with this project? What do you want the public to know or understand—any advice about how to move forward to create change?
VH: I want people to know it is possible to have people from different perspectives come together and work together for a common cause. The things you hold dear about your town and community, others do, too; it’s possible to affect change, if you are willing to speak up, listen, form alliances, and work together. Lots of people in Carolina Beach like to say, “Love where you live.” It’s a great saying, but “love” is a verb. To love is to act, and I’m so grateful so many town workers, community members and organizations are willing to act in love to help protect Carolina Beach Lake habitats.
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