Friday, May 5, 2023

City of Durham commits to create Ellerbe Creek Dedicated Nature Preserve

May 5, 2023

The Durham City Council has voted to create the Ellerbe Creek Dedicated Nature Preserve on 215 acres of city-owned land near Ellerbe Creek.

It will be the largest land conservation project by the city of Durham in decades.

Publicly and privately-owned natural areas identified by the N.C. Natural Heritage Program can be dedicated as State Nature Preserves to establish a lasting conservation commitment.

“Dedicated Nature Preserves are the most permanent form of land protection under the State Nature Preserves Act,” said Misty Buchanan, director of the N.C. Natural Heritage Program. “Some of the most recognized jewels of our natural heritage are dedicated nature preserves, places like Grandfather Mountain, Jockey’s Ridge, and much of Eno River State Park.”

The 215 acres of lower Ellerbe Creek to be dedicated include one of the largest undisturbed areas of wetlands in Durham, and is home to a regionally important water bird colony, known locally as the Ellerbe Creek heron rookery.

“We cannot see into the future, but we can take some examples from the past,” said Durham mayor Elaine O’Neal during the May 1 city council meeting. “We don’t have a Grandfather Mountain in Durham, North Carolina. We don’t have the Florida Everglades. We don’t have a Grand Canyon. But somebody, in their infinite wisdom, thought to preserve them forever, and I thank them for that. We have that unique opportunity today.”

The Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association (ECWA) introduced the N.C. Natural Heritage Program staff to this important area in 2020, after many years of educating the community about the heron rookery. After conducting a site survey in 2021, the N.C. Natural Heritage Program recommended almost 300 acres to be a state-recognized Natural Heritage Area.

After ECWA nominated the site to be considered for the designation as a Dedicated Nature Preserve, ECWA and the Natural Heritage Program together requested the city of Durham enter a Dedicated Nature Preserve agreement with the state of North Carolina. State, city, and ECWA staff negotiated the details for more than a year, ensuring the final proposal would not interfere with various city departments, including Water Management and Transportation, to carry out their important work near the site.

Across North Carolina, the state has protected more than 466,000 acres in Dedicated Nature Preserves, through agreements with private, local, and state government organizations at 198 sites to date.

City staff next will work with state staff and the ECWA to draft Articles of Dedication to be approved by the city council. They then will be reviewed by the N.C. Natural Heritage Advisory Committee before moving to the N.C. Council of State for adoption.

For more information about this recent city council action, visit the city’s website to review the agenda item and presentation materials, and watch the May 1 city council meeting on the city’s YouTube channel.

About Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
The Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association is a nonprofit land trust and watershed organization that manages 5 open-to-the-public nature preserves and works to engage all people in Durham with nature. No single organization or government can hope to meet Durham’s goal of 30% protected open space alone, so we work with partners like the City of Durham to catalyze and assist important projects like this one

About the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) manages, promotes, and enhances the things that people love about North Carolina – its diverse arts and culture, rich history, and spectacular natural areas. Through its programs, the department enhances education, stimulates economic development, improves public health, expands accessibility, and strengthens community resiliency.

The department manages over 100 locations across the state, including 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, five science museums, four aquariums, 35 state parks, four recreation areas, dozens of state trails and natural areas, the North Carolina Zoo, the North Carolina Symphony, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, the African American Heritage Commission, the American Indian Heritage Commission, the State Historic Preservation Office, the Office of State Archaeology, the Highway Historical Markers program, the N.C. Land and Water Fund, and the Natural Heritage Program. For more information, please visit