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Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program - 2013-04-29

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A stomp in the swamp

By Jim Hawhee, APNEP Policy & Engagement Manager
April 29, 2013

 A few of the 10,000 Atlantic white cedar trees planted in the swamp

A few of the 10,000 Atlantic white cedar trees planted in the swamp

The name “Dismal Swamp” doesn’t exactly evoke images of a breezy and bright spring afternoon. Perhaps it should.

On a radiant April day, APNEP joined park staff, volunteers from Friends of Dismal Swamp State Park, and members of the local Boy and Girl Scout troops to plant thousands of Atlantic White Cedar trees in the park. The trees were planted to restore areas burned by the 2011 Lateral West fire, which was fueled by trees felled from Hurricane Isabel and the peat soils characteristic of the area.

The scarred landscape in Dismal Swamp resulting from recent fires

The scarred landscape in Dismal Swamp resulting from recent fires

In addition to investing some sweat equity, APNEP also provided funding for the 10,000 trees, which were raised at the N.C. Forest Service’s Claridge Nursery in Goldsboro.

The idea that trees are good for the environment is seemingly self-evident, but several volunteers asked why an estuary program would support a project like this. It was a great opportunity to discuss our ecosystem-based approach and the importance of partnerships to sustain the best features of our estuarine system.

Contrasted with the image above, foliage in an unburned section of the park

Contrasted with the image above, foliage in an unburned section of the park

Atlantic white cedars are wetland species, dense stands of which once characterized large swaths of the Albemarle-Pamlico region. Among other benefits, white cedar ecosystems stabilize streamflows, temporarily store floodwaters, help protect against the effects of drought, and purify water. Their decomposing needles also cause the characteristically acidic and tea-colored water that comes from these swamps. Ultimately, this water makes its way into the Albemarle Sound.

This project also compliments the restoration of peatland hydrology underway in the swamp, which is one of the largest forested peatland blocks in the country.

Like many days we spend in the field, the company was as enjoyable as the landscape.

I spent much of my afternoon digging holes and swapping stories with Eddie Taylor, a machinist who recently retired after 40 years working with our armed forces.

Park superintendent Joy Greenwood planting trees

Park superintendent Joy Greenwood planting trees

Park superintendent Joy Greenwood graciously and professionally coordinated the activities of the day four times (the first three dates were rained out). Like most members of the park’s staff, she spent her day in the mud planting alongside volunteers.

Michele Aydlett, who is the president of the friends group, initiated the partnership with APNEP and also volunteered alongside her husband, Tim, for several days to ensure every last tree was planted. The Aydletts are longtime supporters of the park and other conservation initiatives throughout the state.

Tim and Michele Aydlett partner up to assist in the project they helped realize

Michele and Tim Aydlett partner up to assist in the project they helped realize

On our way home, we stopped to visit the park’s lighter exhibit. Lighters were flat-bottomed boats historically used to move through the canals of the swamp. These boats were used to carry cedar shingles timbered from the swamp before its preservation in 1972 by the Nature Conservancy.

We learned some interesting stories about the swamp, including its ties to Native American life, George Washington, and its role in providing safe passage for slaves seeking their freedom in the 19th century.

A lighter boat on display at Dismal Swamp State Park

A lighter boat on display at Dismal Swamp State Park

With 10,000 trees in the ground and improvement of the swamp’s hydrology underway, we’re glad that APNEP can be a small part of the park’s storied history.

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