Where the late Carl Veasey once grew soybeans, corn, wheat and tobacco; where his daughters played and fished and rode their bikes through woods and fields; a small crowd gathered Monday to honor the land that now bears the Veasey name.
“Carl would have been the happiest of all to see this come to fruition,” said Martha Veasey, his widow.
Martha, her daughters Kellie Garrett, Lisa McIntosh and Carla Thompson, and their neighbor of 42 years Terry Rogers were among the officials of Raleigh, Durham, the state and the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association who formally announced the Veasey Farm Preserve, a 193-acre tract that drains into the Falls Lake reservoir.
The Ellerbe Creek association, a conservation nonprofit that bought the land in December, hasn’t decided what to do with it, said director Chris Dreps. Whatever that turns out to be, the bottom line is protecting water quality in the streams that feed into Ellerbe Creek and the lake.
“Anything we can do on the front end to protect that water quality is really beneficial,” said Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, whose city relies on Falls Lake for its drinking water.
For cities, she said, “Water is the new gold. ... a good, clean, safe water source.”
The association made its announcement on a slope above a small pond on which, as if to emphasize the point, wind was spreading a surface coat of pestiferous algae and duckweed, which block sunlight and hogs nutrients from natural aquatic life.
The view, though, also encompassed a fresh-mown hillside that Carl Veasey terraced to prevent erosion; distant fields, forest and old outbuildings from the property’s agricultural days.
“I remember when Dad built the pond,” Lisa Veasey said. She and her sisters “worked in tobacco and did everything every summer. Dad could never make us tomboys but ... we worked like boys."
Carl Veasey died in 2011. He and Martha spent their 57 years of married life on the land, and she still lives on about 30 acres of Veasey land just across the road from the land now under protective covenants and easements. In 1987, the Veaseys sold 49 acres to Red Mill LLC, a Connecticut developer that assured the Veaseys they were free to use the land as they liked until Red Mill was ready to develop it.
“They never got around to it,” Martha Veasey said. Then, a few years ago, Carl Veasey met Diana Tetens, the association’s conservation director. Veasey was enthused at the thought of preserving his former property as green space, and that meeting led to negotiations with Red Mill and purchase of the former Veasey land, along with other acreage Red Mill had bought in 1987 from George Winchester.
“Red Mill has 88 shareholders,” Tetens said. “It took patience.”
The sale closed Dec. 19 for $1.2 million. The N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative, an association of conservation organizations, provided the money.
“While it may not still be a farm, it’s still producing. Producing clean water,” said Trust Fund Director Richard Rogers.
“Carl would just be so proud and pleased to know this was happening,” Martha Veasey said.
The Veasey Preserve includes mature hardwood forest, 118 acres of floodplain and two streams that flow into Ellerbe Creek. Dreps said Durham County has had some interest in turning some parts of the preserve into public parks, and some of it is still good farmland. The tract is near ECWA’s 93-acre Glennstone Preserve and one idea is to connect the two with footpaths that run on to the nearby N.C. Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Tetens said the association intends to spend two or three years assessing best uses before making decisions. But member Mike Shiflett said there’s one thing that needs attention sooner: fire ants.
“We’re going to have to get rid of the anthills,” he said.