Nurturing natural space

It’s not hard to drive around the Durham-Chapel Hill region and despite sprawling subdivisions, sleek office parks and bustling retail complexes, still find within easy reach wide swathes of forest and greenery.

We’re fortunate to have more than 7,000 acres of Duke Forest sitting right on the edge of Durham and stretching out into the county. Carolina North Forest on Chapel Hill’s edge provides nearly 1,000 acres of wooded sanctuary. And despite our growth over the past century, it’s easy to pass through, even scant miles from downtown’s rising skyline, large tracts of undeveloped land.

But to think that our human need for open space will somehow be satisfied by chance and good fortune is to ignore the realities of one of the country’s more dynamic urban areas. Statewide, an “Inventory of Natural Areas and Wildlife Habitats for Orange County” noted well over a decade ago, “Sprawling development — that is, the rapid conversion of rural open space to urban and suburban land uses — is reducing open space in North Carolina at the rate of 277 acres per day.”

That 2004 update of an earlier inventory noted the specific impact in Orange County. “Of the 53 natural areas identified in this inventory, over 50 percent lie in the southeastern quarter of the county, which is the most heavily populated and shows the most probability of further, accelerated suburban development,” the report said. “It is ironic that the most geologically and topographically diverse part of the county is also the one in which the pressure of habitat modification is the greatest. However, there are no areas identified in this report that are ‘unthreatened’.”

Of course, since that report, our growth has accelerated, and bulldozers have swept away hundreds of acres of forest and green space.

So gifts like that being celebrated today — the Brumley Family Nature Preserve off New Hope Church Road in northern Orange County — are critically important to ensuring we have open space preserved and protected for generations to come. The 613-acre forest, assembled by the Brumley Family and sold at a discounted price to the Triangle Land Conservancy in 2010, features more than 20 miles of streams and 20 acres of wetlands.

More than 260 species of flora and fauna have been identified, and over the past seven years volunteers have repopulated the landscape with more than 2,000 hardwood trees, planted open fields with pollinators and created 15 miles of trails for hiking or mountain biking.

The preserve is a tribute to the Brumley family — wiped out in a 2003 plane crash — and to the efforts of the TLC and many others to preserve nature in the midst of the Triangle’s growth.