State of Green – NC organizations advocate for environment

Nikolai Kutsch, News Editor

Though environmental activists around the globe celebrated Earth Day on April 22. again this year, images of roadside litter and natural plants being traded for concrete developments lingered as a damper over the festivities. 

Still, in N.C., from the City of Oaks to the state’s southern coast, neighbors are getting their hands dirty with soil and trash to protect the planet one plant or plastic bag at a time. 

They’re growing a pollinator paradise by the sea 

Southport, N.C. – Views of the glistening Cape Fear river from dockside grills featuring steamed shrimp and fried flounder have crowned Southport, N.C. as one of the state’s treasured travel destinations. 

Hiding among neighborhoods where wind chimes and grass lawns provide serene refuge from the riverside tourist bustle is the city’s volunteer-run Native Pollinator Garden. 

“We wanted to do something different for Southport,” said Kate Singley, who previously served on the City of Southport Beautification Committee and remains active as a volunteer. 

According to the City of Southport website, the garden’s goals include growing bee-friendly plants that bloom from the spring to the fall, as well as creating protected spaces for caterpillars and bees. 

Settling on a plot of land in the city’s Lowe-White Park, Singley and fellow volunteers opened the Pollinator Garden in 2017 to demonstrate the importance of native plant species and attract pollinators – bees, butterflies, birds, and even bats – to the area. 

“We always felt we wanted a diverse grouping of plants that would bloom at different times of the year,” explained Singley. “We also wanted to show the ease of growing native plants.” 

“There are a lot of invasive plants in North Carolina,” continued Singley, citing the infamously invasive kudzu plant and mimosa tree, which are native to Asia. “We want to make sure that if you plant the native plants, slowly and surely you will push out the invasive plants.”

Though a native plant takes three to five years to establish itself, “Once it’s established, it requires hardly any maintenance at all,” said Singley.

Lowe-White Park also boasts a Mason Bee House donated by Southport Alderman Tom Lombardi, a member of the Beautification Committee. Named for their use of mud to build nests, mason bees don’t produce honey and rarely sting. 

“Mason bees are springtime pollinators,” explained Singley. “They put some nectar in there with the egg. Another bee can come in where the mud is, lay an egg, [and] pack it.”

A mason bee home is just one part of the garden’s initiatives aimed at attracting pollinators. (Photo by Nikolai Kutsch)

Alongside maintaining the garden, volunteers embrace opportunities to pique visitors’ interest in the natural world through conversations. “People ask questions when we’re working in the garden,” said Singley. “It’s really the awareness of how good the plants can be for the pollinators. Every third bite of food that you eat has been the result of a pollinator.”

On April 30., the volunteers will participate in the city’s NatureFest, distributing educational materials and offering tours of the garden by way of golf cart or a leisurely walk. “We already know for sure that there’s been some inspiration for a number of people in town that have started their own pollinator gardens,” said Singley. 

The garden team is expanding its impact with projects like a free on-site library (The Buzz Box) as well as recently receiving approval for a partnership with Bee City USA, a national program that supports pollinator gardens across the country with a focus on educational outreach.

”We’re pretty happy with how things are working out,” said Singley, who emphasized the credit owed to the pollinators themselves. “They know what they’re doing, and they’re doing it for us. So that’s why we want to do it for them.”

The Southport Pollinator Garden serves a variety of pollinators, including bees, bats, and birds. (Photo by Nikolai Kutsch)

Anyone visiting Southport with an interest in volunteering can contact the Southport Beautification Committee at [email protected] or view their website (https://cityofsouthport.com/beautification-committee/southport-pollinator-garden-2/) for more information.

They’re removing Raleigh’s rubbish

Raleigh, N.C. – In the N.C. state capital, passerbys catch a glimpse of environmentalism in a swarm of volunteers sporting safety-green shirts and wielding claw-like trash pickers, their work area demarcated with a sign: The Great Raleigh Cleanup.

According to The Great Raleigh Cleanup’s official website, the organization works to “revitalize and enhance the beauty of existing local communities and greenways within the city of Raleigh.” 

On neighborhood strolls during the pandemic, founder Preston Ross III felt struck by the abundance of trash along his walking route. “I noticed that there was a lot just on the street I live on,” said Ross, “[I thought] ‘I might not be able to clean up the city, but let me just start cleaning up my yard.’”

Equipment and disposal solutions are part of the resources The Great Raleigh Cleanup offers to neighborhoods and volunteers involved in their cleanups. (Photo courtesy of The Great Raleigh Cleanup)

Toting a trash bucket and picker, Ross started to frequently scoop up discarded objects, creating an Instagram account titled The Great Raleigh Cleanup to raise awareness. 

Despite the success of his individual efforts, Ross concluded that his goal would require teamwork. “There are some areas that really need to be cleaned up but are a little too big for me,” said Ross. 

Determined to lead group events that mirrored his own neighborhood tidying excursions, Ross created an account for his new project on MeetUp.com, a social organizing website.

“Nobody came out the first time,” Ross recalled. “I didn’t give up. I posted again. The second time I posted, we had three new people. It was a great cleanup. That three turned into five, that five turned into eight, eight turned into 13, and it just kept growing and growing.”

To date, The Great Raleigh Cleanup has hosted 78 cleanup events, collected 58,285 pounds of trash, and recycled 3,136 pounds of metal, sparking thankful and surprised reactions (“Y’all didn’t just pick that up around here, did you?”) from community residents.

Volunteers working with The Great Raleigh Cleanup aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty if it means cleaning their community. (Photo courtesy of The Great Raleigh Cleanup)

“Everybody appreciates what we do,” said Ross. “You’re hard-pressed to find somebody who’s not gonna support what we do.”

The Great Raleigh Cleanup recently launched Adopt The Block, an initiative modeled after the state’s Adopt-A-Highway program. 

The effort has already recruited 30 pledgers across the Triangle, who commit to frequent litter cleanups in their neighborhoods. “To make our mission of a 100% litter-free Raleigh absolutely sustainable, it’s gonna take Adopt A Block,” explained Ross. 

Ross offered lessons from his own experience to community members wanting to make an environmental impact. 

“Start small,” advised Ross. “Don’t go out with these grandiose ideas of, ‘Oh, I’m gonna have all of Fuquay cleaned up by this weekend.’” Instead, Ross suggested a focused mindset: “This is an area that I have the ability to impact.”

“Don’t get downtrodden if you cleaned up an area and you come back and there’s litter,” said Ross, “There are more people that want a litter-free Raleigh and a litter-free Fuquay than there are litterers.”

“Start small” is the advice The Great Raleigh Cleanup’s founder Preston Ross III offers to citizens interested in tidying up their neighborhood. Sidewalks and greenways often fall into the radius of the group’s cleanups – a noticable difference for people who frequently walk these routes. (Photo courtesy of The Great Raleigh Cleanup)

Anyone wishing to volunteer with The Great Raleigh Cleanup can reach organizers by email at [email protected] or through the contact form on their website, www.raleighcleanup.org.