(The Center Square) – Investments in the state budget reflect priorities of the General Assembly, and it’s clear the state’s $66 billion military sector and $28 billion outdoor recreation economy are among them.
The newly enacted state budget will result in $45 million for 66 projects through the North Carolina Land and Water Fund that’s expected to protect a total of 16,793 acres. This includes more than 14,000 acres that will eventually open for public hiking, hunting, boating and other outdoor activities.
“In addition to protecting water quality, these state investments will conserve wildlife habitat, preserve historic and cultural sites, enhance quality of life, and increase recreation opportunities,” Reid Wilson, secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, said in a statement. “2023 is the official North Carolina ‘Year of the Trail’ and it is fitting that these projects will add to trails across the state, including new sections of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, East Coast Greenway, and Deep River State Trail.”
Grants for this year that will support the state’s outdoor recreation economy include protections for over 2,100 acres of game lands in Ashe and Scotland counties, and over 4,300 acres added to state parks in Avery, Chatham, Guilford, Iredell, Robeson, Rockingham, Transylvania and Yancey counties.
Another 6,000 acres will be protected in local parks and preserves in Bertie, Buncombe, Carteret, Cherokee, Durham, Hertford, Johnston, Macon, New Hanover, Orange, Rutherford and Wake counties.
Over 18 miles of streams, rivers, and shores will also receive funds for shoreline construction, stream and flood plain restoration, and dam removal projects. One project in particular on the Oconaluftee River in the Great Smokey Mountains will reconnect 478 miles of rivers and streams to expand habitat for aquatic species including the threatened Sicklefin Redhorse, a species of sucker significant to the Cherokee Indians.
“The board considered 114 outstanding applications from our conservation partners for a wide variety of great projects throughout the state, from removing a century-old dam and reconnecting a huge watershed in Swain County, to protecting almost 4,000 acres along the Northeast Cape Fear River for a new park just 10 miles from downtown Wilmington in New Hanover County,” John Wilson, chair of the North Carolina Land and Water Fund board of trustees, said in a statement.
“These exceptional projects, as well as smaller ones with enormous impact, are only possible due to recent increases in recurring annual budgets for the Land and Water Fund supported by Governor Cooper and the General Assembly.”
Other investments aim to create buffers for the state’s military instillations and training areas. The budget devotes a total of $6.7 million to protect over 6,200 acres near Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, the Camp Mackall Army training facility, the Army’s Fort Liberty, and Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point.
A complete list of fund awards shows a total of $7.8 million for military buffer acquisitions, $28.8 million for non-military acquisitions, $7.7 million for restoration, $488,321 for stormwater projects, and $749,337 for planning grants.