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Navy Funds Conservation Near Camp Lejeune

Preserve once held inn where George Washington stayed

Story Highlights
  • The property is perfect habitat for the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker as well as Venus flytraps.
  • Bringing fire back to this land will help all of the fire-adapted species that reside on it.

Venus flytraps, like those on Sage's Preserve, grow in clusters and are adapted to fire.

What do longleaf pine, Venus flytraps and George Washington have in common? They’ve all been on Sage’s Ridge Preserve. That’s right - President Washington may have pondered flytraps and longleaf on the preserve during his southern tour of 1791.

The Conservancy recently purchased the 459-acre Sage’s Ridge tract in Pender County off US 17. The U.S. Navy covered half of the purchase price because the property will provide a good home for the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and buffer nearby Camp Lejeune. The Navy is working with the Conservancy and other conservation partners to restore the bird throughout the area.

Why Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers Need Longleaf

The red-cockaded woodpecker’s preferred home is a living longleaf pine tree. According to Hervey McIver, who acquired the property on behalf of the Conservancy, Sage’s Ridge Preserve has all the ingredients for perfect habitat. “Longleaf is present but we’ll need to plant more,” he says. “Most importantly, the ground has been relatively undisturbed, which means good wiregrass is growing there already.”

A healthy longleaf pine forest is open and carpeted by wiregrass and a diverse array of wildflowers and other plants. In a natural setting they are all tolerant of the frequent small fires that burned through the grassy groundcover. In fact, many of these plants depend on fires to survive. Fires remove shrubs and other plants that shade out the young longleaf, allowing them to grow. Wiregrass produces the best seed after fire during the growing season.

“Wiregrass is slow to spread and requires just the right conditions,” says McIver. “It is designed to catch fire. But it is difficult to restore once gone.”

Sage’s Preserve Adds to Onslow Bight Region’s Rich History of Conservation

McIver directs the Conservancy’s Onslow Bight conservation work. The Onslow Bight extends from the lower Northeast Cape Fear River to the Pamlico River and from offshore waters to approximately 30 miles inland. The area is rich with plants and animals – including some only found here and a number that are on the federal list of endangered species.

The Conservancy and its conservation partners have protected over 67,000 acres in the Bight. Much of that work has helped to protect the borders of Camp Lejeune from development, allowing the military to continue to fulfill its national security mission.

George Washington Traveled Here

A rich cultural heritage matches the spectacular natural heritage on these lands, and that’s where George Washington comes in. “The preserve lies on the sandy ridge that was driest land for travel long ago near the coast,” McIver says. “One of those travelers was George Washington.”

According to Joseph Parson’s Brown, who wrote a history of the area, a man named Robert Sage owned the stage coach line between Wilmington and New Bern, and operated an inn on the line called “Sage’s Ordinary,” which was located near the newly acquired property. During his 1791 southern tour, Washington spent the night there. As a nod to that history, McIver has decided to name the preserve Sage’s Ridge.

What’s in Store for Sage’s Ridge?

Sometime this winter, the Conservancy will begin to restore Sage’s Ridge Preserve – bringing fire back to the land. McIver says his experience with controlled burns on other nearby Conservancy lands leads him to believe that the land will change rapidly once fire is reintroduced. “This is the kind of land that will be full of flytraps and other rare species once we get fire back on it,” he adds.

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