July 18, 2008

Keeping Land As Nature Intended

By Jannette Pippin, The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C.

Jul. 18--STELLA -- A vast stretch of the White Oak River and the marsh and farmland that extend from its banks were the backdrop for Harry Barker's childhood.

"Some of my favorite memories are working on the farm and at the end of the day, if it wasn't dark, we'd be here swimming or fishing," Barker said while standing on a dock leading to the river's edge.

Barker and his wife established a residence in Wilson after they married, but it is in the Stella area of Carteret County where they return just about every summer weekend and whenever else they can.

His land along the White Oak River is where Barker grew up, and it is where his family has roots dating back 170 years.

Barker's great-great-great-grandfather, Matthew Mason of the Sneads Ferry area, purchased a total of 1,500 acres in the area back in 1839. The 350 acres of farm and forestland the Barkers now own is part of that original property.

The land has frontage on both the White Oak River and Hunters Creek, and Barker not only wants it to stay in the family -- he also wants to see it untouched by development.

For that reason the Barkers have partnered with North Carolina Coastal Land Trust to protect the land.

"Much farmland and woodland in coastal North Carolina has been sold for residential and commercial development," Barker said. "It has always been our desire to maintain our property along the White Oak River undeveloped and unspoiled. By working with the Coastal Land Trust we have ensured that two miles of waterfront and all of our woodland will remain undisturbed for all to enjoy."

The Coastal Land Trust, a nonprofit conservation organization, purchased a landowner agreement on May 29 on approximately 250 acres of the Barker property with a grant from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

The landowner agreement, designed to enhance water quality, conserves a mature hardwood forest and an expansive estuarine marsh winding along more than 2 miles of the White Oak River.

It's an agreement that conserves the property for generations to come.

"This will be beyond my lifetime, and it will never be developed," Barker said.

The Barkers first became partners with the Coastal Land Trust back in December 2007 when they donated a landowner agreement on more than 50 acres of their property to contribute to the overall conservation effort.

The donation agreement allows them to continue farming and forest management activities but restricts any residential or commercial development in perpetuity.

Coastal Land Trust Deputy Director Janice Allen said the project with the Barkers has multiple conservation values, including water quality benefits, protection of wildlife and habitat and scenic value.

And because the Stella property falls within a strategic military training route for Cherry Point Air Station, there is also a military benefit, she said.

Add the fact that the property sits near Croatan National Forest and the enthusiasm of the landowners and it was easy to see the property's potential as a conservation site, Allen said.

"This was a no-brainer," she said. "Mr. Barker has been a model landowner and everything has worked out great. That's what it takes: people who love their land."

The Coastal Land Trust works with private individuals and corporate landowners in North Carolina to conserve property along the coast. Since 1992, the Trust has helped conserve more than 40,000 acres of land in 21 coastal counties.

It is based in Wilmington and has a local office in New Bern, which can be reached by calling 252-634-1927. Or visit www.coastallandtrust.org.

Contact Carteret County reporter Jannette Pippin at [email protected] or 252-808-2275. Visit www.jdnews.com to comment on this report.


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