Saving the Cape
In 1955, the National Park Service issued a report, Our Vanishing Shoreline, and related studies calling for reservation and preservation of shoreline areas before they are lost to development. Those studies identified the Cape Fear as an important area to be so protected.
In 1967, the National Park Service prepared a report recommending National Monument status for the Cape Fear.
In 1988, the National Park Conservation Association issued a report, New Parks: New Promise, which included the Cape Fear River Delta as a potential new park.
Since the 1955 report many of the areas identified by the Park Service have indeed been preserved–the Cape Code National Seashore, Brunswick Islands in Georgia, Fire Island in New York, for example. But most shoreline areas have been lost to development. The Cape Fear has been spared, for the most part. Nothing came of the recommendation for National Monument status, but some areas have been reserved by State action.
A State Megapark?
The march of development up the coast, and increasing pressure to industrialize the Cape Fear estuary region, bring the problem of potential loss of a major National and State resource back into focus. Save the Cape initiated an investigation of the need for, and feasibility of, a Federal reservation for the Cape Fear, whether a National Seashore, National Monument, or other form of reservation for recreational use and environmental preservation. We discovered that nearly all of the eastern leg of the Cape Fear was either developed or subject to State reservation or effective private conservation measures.
On the west bank of the Cape Fear River, a complex of state reservations, private conservation easements, and enlightened private conservation protect all of the undeveloped environmentally sensitive areas from Fort Caswell at the river mouth north to Town Creek, with two notable exceptions: the Southport ferry landing forest, a State-designated natural heritage area, and the 600-acre site north of Southport purchased by the North Carolina State Ports Authority for the planned megaport. The Ports Authority stopped developing that project in 2010 and has written off its investment in such development. The 600-acre site is now surplus to the Ports Authority’s needs.
These circumstances suggest that saving the cape can be effected most efficiently by weaving together the existing reservations into a coherent whole, and filling in the gaps. In national parks and national seashores, historic sites are as significant as biologically important lands and waters and scenic vistas. The Cape Fear region is rich in all of those elements. Thus emerges a plan for:
A Cape Fear Maritime Heritage Area, which would be a State-designated area much like a national park or seashore, with similar advantages of identity to put the essence of the region in the public eye and establish the area as a major destination. This would be a new structure, designed to create the functional equivalent of a national seashore or national heritage area but made up of State components, mostly existing, with one new State park to serve as a gateway and welcome center.
The area embraced by the map above includes six State park reserves, three State historic sites, about 20 historic places on the National Register, a State aquarium, a State maritime museum, and the State Ports Authority property near Southport where we propose a new State park. The area also includes many private reservations and public parks that would be affiliates of the heritage area. The model is the National Maritime Heritage Area proposed for the coastal regions of the State of Washington.
A New State Park?
The gateway to the Cape Fear Maritime Heritage Area would be a new Cape Fear State Park, a botanic park and bird and animal rehabilitation center, on the 600-acre site now owned by the State Ports Authority. This would be an active park, with as much focus on education and recreation as preservation of important natural communities and scenic vistas, and would serve as a visitors’ center and gateway for the larger State heritage park. It would fill a need for recreational facilities in the rapidly growing Brunswick County, which does not have a State park.
Click here for Part I (The Plan) of a draft preliminary prospectus for a new State park at the Cape Fear. This describes the need for the park and the economic benefits.
Click here for Part II (The Park) of a draft preliminary prospectus for a new State park at the Cape Fear. This describes the park itself, its location and natural characteristics, and the recreational facilities we propose.
Click here for Appendix A of a draft preliminary prospectus for a new State park at the Cape Fear. This describes the economic compulsion of the State Ports Authority for realizing value from the park site by transfer to NCParks.