Orange County

Family’s seed of forest preservation bears fruit in Orange County

Friends say George Brumley III was a conservationist and avid hunter who, along with his wife Julia Preston Brumley, believed in leaving the land as you found it and making the world a better place.

The Orange County couple were distressed when they learned the forest across the road from their home was going to be developed, and when those plans fell through in the late 1980s, the Brumleys began buying up the land. The family picnicked there and hosted friends and family over the years.

Both were active members of the Nature Conservancy and Triangle Land Conservancy.

But their dream of preserving Brumley Forest was cut short in 2003 when the Brumleys, their children, and eight other family members were killed as their chartered plane crashed into a mountain in Kenya.

Brumley Forest passed to the Zeist Foundation started by Brumley’s father George Brumley Jr., a pediatrician who had worked at Duke Medical Center and become one of Atlanta’s most respected philanthropists. Brumley Jr. and his wife Jean also were killed in the crash.

In 2010, the foundation sold the land to the Triangle Land Conservancy for a discount at $4.4 million. Funding was provided by the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, Raleigh’s Clean Water Protection Program, the Warner Foundation, the Pearson Stewart Land Opportunity Fund, and private donors.

TLC will open the George and Julia Brumley Family Nature Preserve — Orange County’s second-largest undeveloped tract of land — to the public on Saturday.

The 613-acre forest, nestled two miles south of Hillsborough, between Old N.C. 10 and New Hope Church Road, features more than four miles of streams and 20 acres of wetlands. Its preservation will protect the quality of Stony Creek, the Eno River and Falls Lake, a drinking water source for 500,000 people in Wake County.

“One of the things I love about this place is that it is so different month to month,” TLC Executive Director Sandy Sweitzer said. “This is just gorgeous. Two months ago, you could see right through the trees. I just love how the woods change.”

The land houses old barns and the ruins of several homesites. Biological surveys have documented at least 260 different species of flora and fauna, including beavers, bobcats, wild turkeys, muskrats, frogs and turtles. Bird songs filter through the forest, peaking as a passage opens into meadow or meets a pond.

Hundreds of volunteers and TLC staff spent the last seven years removing invasive species, thinning the forest and repopulating the landscape with over 2,000 hardwood trees and other native species. Open fields were planted with pollinators that attract bees, birds and butterflies.

Schoolhouse of Wonder and local schools already hold camps and classes there, Sweitzer said. Kiosks and other events are planned. She noted that Brumley Forest could meet all four of TLC’s public goals — safeguarding clean water, connecting people to nature, wildlife habitat and supporting local farms and food.

“While it won’t have a working farm on it, there are memories of that that come with the property,” she said.

It’s also unique that Stony Creek and Eno River flows into the Neuse River Watershed, while an unnamed stream on the far southern side flows into the Cape Fear Watershed, added Bo Howes, TLC’s conservation and stewardship director. That marks a key corridor for wildlife, he said.

“Those places with open spaces where those two come together are really critical for wildlife moving back and forth. Not only is that important in general, but it’s really important here, because there’s this protected space,” Howes said.

The 15 miles of volunteer-hewn trails — about half for hiking and the rest open to mountain bikes — follow the contour of the land to prevent erosion. Most are easily navigated, although the bike trails offer some scrambles around rocky outcrops. The Triangle Off-Road Cyclists group will help TLC maintain the trails.

“It’s a beautiful property to bike on, and we built these trails with a contractor who does sustainable trail building, did the trails at Little River Regional Park, Briar Chapel, other places, so hopefully if people are respectful about not riding when it’s really wet, it will be good,” Sweitzer said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

If you go

The Brumley Family Nature Preserve celebration will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 22, with fly fishing lessons, yoga, mountain bike skill training, guided hikes, and other activities at 3055 New Hope Church Road.

Food trucks will be on site all day, and Durham’s Full Steam Brewery will serve its Brumley Forest Baltic Porter, brewed from hickories and black walnuts foraged in the Brumley Forest. A portion of the proceeds from sales will go to Triangle Land Conservancy.

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