DURHAM — Cutting a yellow ribbon with a pair of pruning shears and sprinkling partridge pea seeds along a new-cut nature trail, a gathering of about 50 conservationists and government officials ceremonially opened the 708-acre Horton Grove Preserve on Friday.
Partridge peas (Chamaecrista fasciculata) were a practical as well as aesthetic choice. They are a favored food of bobwhite quail, said Johnny Randall of the N.C. Botanical Garden, and bringing bobwhites back to a restored native prairie is one of the Triangle Land Conservancy’s hopes for the property’s future.
Friday’s ceremony was part of a two-day program of tours, demonstrations and entertainments opening the conservancy’s new site. So far, the nonprofit group has built three miles of nature trails through forest, floodplain, swampland and a 25-acre tract destined for the restored prairie.
“I expect that Horton Grove will be a popular recreation destination,” said County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, “and that is great.”
The preserve, on Jock Road in northeast Durham County, adjoins the Stagville State Historic site, part of an antebellum plantation that once covered 30,000 acres and employed more than 1,000 slaves.
State Historic Sites Director Keith Hardison said the combination is “a rare opportunity. … We can cross-pollinate across property lines, across subject areas to create an integrated … approach to interpreting this area. Because you cannot separate, especially in Southern history, the people from the land.”
Treyburn developer D.R. Bryan donated the property to the conservancy and said the idea for its conservation came from a 2003 planning meeting at which about 200 participants shared ideas for how the land around Stagville and its 1850 Horton Grove slave village might be developed in an environmentally and historically respectful way. A that time, Bryan said, an approved development plan would have turned the woodland into a subdivision with shopping center and 18-hole golf course. “We kind of trashed that,” Reckhow said.