The Triangle Land Conservancy (TLC), a nonprofit land trust, closed on the purchase of 665 acres of waterfront property on the Cape Fear River in Lee County this week, according to a press release from the organization. The property is home to several “significant natural heritage areas” and “element occurrences,” and the drinking water intake for the city of Sanford. The Cape Fear Bottomland is a key piece of previously unprotected land in an undeveloped corridor of the Cape Fear River where the Wildlife Resources Commission manages 7,307 adjacent acres for conservation purposes. Permanently protecting this parcel and planning for its management to optimize habitat and ecosystem services will create a nearly 8,000-acre conservation corridor in North Carolina’s largest river basin.

Acquiring the Cape Fear Bottomland protects 51,231 feet of stream buffer in the Cape Fear River corridor and 282 acres of floodplain, critical protection for immediate and downstream human and natural communities. The property contains several Natural Areas recognized by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program (NCNHP) including Cape Fear River/McKay Island Floodplain, Piedmont Bottomland Forest, Piedmont Levee Forest, historic waterbird colonies, and several beaver made wetlands. Cape Fear Bottomland is directly across from WRC’s Avent Ferry Boat Ramp, the first view of the Cape Fear that many boaters see upon hitting the water.

This property was for sale as forestry property and first caught the attention of Triangle Land Conservancy in March of 2020. Long-time Sanford community member and TLC donor Tommy Frazier Bridges had recently begun the Lee County Conservation Fund at Triangle Land Conservancy with a donation to fund staff time to identify high conservation value projects and protection methods in Lee County. With that support, TLC staff conducted site assessments on the property, negotiated with the landowner, and in February 2021 submitted an application for grant funds to the NC Land and Water Fund to make the purchase. Delays in the state budget prolonged the decision period, and the property went under contract to a developer. When that contract fell through, TLC called upon a private donor to help bridge project funding and leverage available grant funding.

After the legislature passed the state budget, the NC Land and Water Fund allocated $60.4 million to 83 projects that protect NC’s land and water from the mountains to the coast, including $854,589 for the purchase of the Cape Fear Bottomland. The state’s support is critical for this project, but the opportunity to conserve it would have disappeared without the investment of private donors willing to bridge the gap and stimulate TLC’s activities in Lee County. Through this public/private/nonprofit partnership, the Cape Fear Bottomland is permanently conserved and providing the surrounding community with wildlife habitat and connectivity, iconic viewsheds, flood resiliency, and clean drinking water in the Cape Fear River corridor.