Saving the South End

by | Jun 27, 2024 | Nature, Topsail Beach

North Carolina Coastal Land Trust steps in to help save the southernmost portion of Topsail Beach from development, but much support is needed.

“There are some real heart-warming stories about the south end of Topsail Beach,”says Harrison Marks, executive director of North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, a nonprofit conservation organization. “People tell us about their first dates walking there, or we hear from others who have great memories of growing up net casting off the end of the point.”

With nearly 150 acres and 1.6 miles of ocean-to-sound beaches, the southernmost portion of Topsail Beach, also known as “The South End” or “The Point,” is one of the last remaining, undeveloped privately owned sites on any North Carolina barrier island.

The South End is considered a birdwatchers’ paradise, home to several types of shore birds including Wilson’s plovers and willets. More than 30 bird species — some declining — have been documented there.

The area is rich with unspoiled dunes, estuarine wetlands and a maritime shrub forest that provides natural habitat for diverse wildlife. It is also a nesting haven for loggerhead sea turtles.

While the surrounding beach is used often, “there is a serious effort by residents and informed visitors to resist exploring the area too much, as it’s a fragile eco-system,” Marks says.

Harrison Marks Photo by Daria Amato

Harrison Marks Photo by Daria Amato

The South End is an unprotected but respected conservation area. Yet in 2022, the unimaginable happened. A couple entered a contract to purchase the South End from its owners to build a 30-acre family compound. Though the tract is zoned for conservation, conditional zoning was possible. Thankfully, after much criticism from concerned citizens, the couple withdrew their application for the proposed development.   Realizing it would be just a matter of time before another developer set its sights on the property, Coastal Land Trust stepped in. They negotiated a fair market price with the owners to purchase the property.

“The South End has been on Coastal Land Trust’s top 40 list of properties we’d like to protect for some time,” Marks says. “We tried to buy 45 acres in 2005 and 2006, but at that time, the appraisal was in the $60 million range, making it financially impossible then.”

To date, the organization has helped save 90,273 acres of natural areas and working landscapes throughout the state.

The contract between the Coastal Land Trust and the property owners provides for closing on the purchase on or before March 31, 2025. That leaves the organization less than a year to raise nearly $8 million to complete the purchase — setting up an ambitious fundraising campaign.

Coastal Land Trust has applied for four grants — from both state and federal programs — which, if awarded, will total $5.5 million.  Additionally, the Town of Topsail Beach intends to buy 1.5 acres, including the current parking lot, which will provide $800,000 towards the purchase price.

Serenity Photo by Unique Media & Design

1100′ Serenity Point Photo by Unique Media & Design

“We’ve already raised over $500,000 from private donors,” Marks says.

If the grant monies are approved — which Coastal Land Trust should know in July and as late as October and November — it could still take nine months to a year before the funds are released. Once the organization knows it will receive the funds, it can close on the property with a bridge loan and then pay off the remaining loan once the grants are paid.

The grants, however, are not guaranteed. That is why the private donor campaign is crucial to the success of the preservation efforts.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have the support from people who have lived here or have a long history with Topsail Beach who want to see this property protected,” Marks says.

“They have been instrumental in connecting us with people who have sufficient means. In the first week after we announced our agreement to purchase the property, we had about 60 donors contributing over $50,000 through our online portal.”

Once the purchase of the property is complete, the South End of Topsail Beach will be permanently preserved and protected from development. Coastal Land Trust will transfer the title to the State of North Carolina, and the Division of Coastal Management will become the agency responsible for the management and oversight of the property. Once the state takes over the property, it will dedicate it through the State Nature Preserve Act.

Harrison Marks On South End Photo by Daria Amato

Harrison Marks On South End Photo by Daria Amato

Once the purchase is complete, the goal is to permanently protect the property and manage it to balance conservation and public access. The South End will remain open to the public for traditional uses like beach combing, walking, swimming and fishing.

For Topsail residents, dedicated supporters and the team at Coastal Land Trust, the impending closing date adds a sense of urgency to the mission.

“If we don’t protect it now, it’s too attractive as a developable zone,” Marks says.

CAN YOU HELP?
To contribute to the Save the South End campaign, donate through Coastal Land Trust’s website. More information can be found at coastallandtrust.org/ south-topsail-beach

Photography by Daria Amato and Unique Media & Design

About the author

Melissa Slaven Warren

Melissa Slaven Warren

Melissa Slaven Warren is a freelance writer who lives in Southeastern North Carolina. She earned her BA in English from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and is currently pursuing her Masters in Liberal Studies from UNCW. She’s been a freelance business writer, feature article author, non-fiction essayist, technical editor, entrepreneur, product and brand manager. Her work has appeared in Our State magazine and she is a regular contributor to local publications. In her spare time Melissa enjoys water sports and coastal living with her husband Bill and 110 lb. rescue dog, aptly named Bear. Visit her website at www.melissaslavenwarren.com.