When the president of the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association learned a few years ago that a special piece of property along the creek was hitting the market, he didn’t dwell on the fact that the organization lacked the money to buy it.
Instead, Steve Cohn purchased the parcel himself for $50,000, then signed a contract that called for the association to purchase it from him within two years at the same price. And although it ultimately took more than two years for ECWA to raise the grant money it needed from local and state organizations, last summer it closed on the property.
“It’s right that it belongs to ECWA and not to anybody else,” Cohn said.
But now anybody and everybody can appreciate the 2.5-acre-plus site, dubbed The Rocks Nature Preserve, because it has become ECWA’s fifth open-to-the-public nature reserve. Sunday afternoon was its official opening, with several dozen people gathering at the site at 1 p.m. to learn about its history – dating back to when dinosaurs ruled the Earth – and the part it plays in the natural way of things.
“You really won’t find a more beautiful piece of stream in all of Durham,” Chris Dreps, ECWA’s executive director, told Sunday’s gathering.
The picturesque gray rocks that line this section of creek near North Duke Street, less than a mile from the Museum of Life and Science, are atypical of this section of the creek.
“It looks like a mountain creek, and most of the creek in Durham doesn’t look like that at all,” Cohn, who also is the director of the Duke University Press, said in an interview.
Although it’s a relatively small piece of land, Dreps noted that “it’s also adjacent to county land... So it feels like you are in a larger area than that, especially since it’s all forested.”
David Stein, 63, a Durham resident who lives 1.6 miles from the site, couldn’t resist being on hand for Sunday’s celebration.
“It’s a beautiful day and I love seeing the expansion of the park system,” said Stein, who works in education outreach for the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership. “I just love finding these nooks and crannies in Durham.”
Melody Peters, 47, an actor and co-founder of the Durham-based Rags to Riches Theatre for Young Audiences, also was on hand Sunday.
Peters said she appreciates that “nature is soothing and calming and it’s a way of connecting with people. I feel like in today’s society, oddly enough, we feel like we are more connected (through technology), but I’m finding that we really are not.”
“I just think about people who are just sitting at home today and watching TV and it just breaks my heart,” she added. “This is so awesome.”
Getting people to fall in love with the creek is the way we get them to take care of the creek.
Steve Cohn, Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association president
ECWA, which owns almost 340 acres of land along Ellerbe Creek and its tributaries, is focused on protecting the corridor.
“We use the term green infrastructure because we believe it is part of the infrastructure necessary to protect and restore water quality and a living stream,” Dreps said.
Having preserves that are open to the public are, in a way, part of ECWA’s marketing plan.
“I want to get lots of people out there,” Cohn said. “Getting people to fall in love with the creek is the way we get them to take care of the creek.”