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Who pays to get the gators and mold out of NC’s parks? CuriousNC gets the answer.

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Several state and federal parks and historic sites in NC are working to repair damage or dry out from Hurricane Florence, but Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site had more than dropped trees and flooded exhibits to worry over. It had alligators.

Jim McKee, who manages the Brunswick County site, had to take a boat to get to the property and when he reached land, he was afraid to get out.

Most of the ‘gators were in the 3-foot range, McKee said, and, “They were all bellied up to the buffet,” eating frogs from the puddles on the property, he said. They had washed over from Orton Plantation, which is adjacent to the historic site and has one of the highest alligator densities in the South, according to researchers.

With the ‘gators gone, the site still has two big problems, McKee said. The road leading into it was washed away by flooding, and the site can’t reopen until the road is rebuilt. In addition, the visitors center was without power for eight days so now the building has mold growing in it.

Through CuriousNC, a project of the The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun, a reader asked whether state and federal parks are eligible for federal relief funds after a natural disaster such as Hurricane Florence. The questioner preferred to remain anonymous, but noted that, “Our state parks and national parks are already significantly underfunded, including underfunding for routine maintenance and a huge backlog of maintenance needs.”

State parks are eligible to receive money for cleanup and repairs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which helps pay to restore public infrastructure after natural disasters. State parks also get help from volunteers and “friends” groups, who may offer their labor to help clear trails or money for supplies for particular projects.

McKee said he didn’t yet know what it will cost to make repairs at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson, which he said likely will include some restoration of the river shoreline. The river has not gone down enough to assess the damage, he said.

Brunswick Town, a pre-Revolutionary port, was razed by British troops in 1776 and was never rebuilt, according to the site’s website. Fort Anderson was a Confederate defense built on the same site as the former village. McKee said the site gets about 30,000 visitors a year, and October is usually a busy month. That’s when all of Brunswick County’s 4th-graders come to attend a living history program there. McKee hopes to be able to reschedule that event for the spring.

gator photo.jpg
Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site

Other North Carolina-owned sites still affected by the storm include Jordan Lake State Recreation Area; Fort Macon State Park; and Carolina Beach State Park. Federally-owned Moore’s Creek National Battlefield, Cape Lookout National Seashore and the Appalachian Trail also still show Hurricane Florence’s effects.

Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, which has been closed since before the storm hit on Sept. 14, hopes to open some of its 1,100 campsites on Friday and others on Monday, Oct. 8. Park Superintendent Shederick Mole said Tuesday that while the park didn’t suffer much physical damage from Florence, high water levels in Jordan Lake had flooded the campgrounds and heavy rains left campsites and trails a soggy mess.

The campgrounds all are designed with sites along a one-lane, one-way loop road, and if the road is flooded, drivers can’t get through.

“If you’re driving a big RV or pulling a camper, you can’t really make a three-point turn to get out of there,” Mole said.

Checking park websites is a good way to find out what facilities are open or closed, Mole said. About half of the state’s parks have at least some closures due to the storm, if only a trail or two.

So far, he said, park staff have been handling cleanup work as Jordan Lake recedes and they can get in to clear away the limbs and trash the water deposited. For now, he said, crews are moving the debris aside. Later, the park may need to hire contractors to remove the material.

Once the sites are clear, Mole said, they may need a few days of good weather to dry out before campers can use them.

Fort Macon State Park, on Bogue Banks near Morehead City, also sustained some high water as Hurricane Florence’s heavy rains filled the moat around the former Civil War fort. Normally, park Superintendent Randy Newman said, pumps used to remove excess water from the moat would keep it from coming into the structure.

“But the power went out, so water got in. We had about two inches of water inside.”

That’s all it took to warp some of the yellow heart pine floor boards inside the exhibit rooms and to destroy the particle-board subfloors, Newman said, and to damage the bottoms of some of the exhibit cases.

But workers quickly got out all the artifacts that tell the story of the fort and the soldiers and officers who occupied it. Uniforms, leather goods and munitions — all are being cared for off site.

For now, Newman said, visitors are allowed into the fort but can’t go into the rooms, where fans and air conditioning are being used to dry the floors.

“It’s a race against mold,” Newman said.

He said he expects floors will have to be pulled up and the subfloors replaced. No estimates on the cost have been done, he said.

Carolina Beach State Park, on Pleasure Island south of Wilmington, reopened all but 10 of its campsites Wednesday and many of its nine miles of trails, park Superintendent Chris Helms said. About 10 sites will likely remain closed, he said, until contractors can be hired to climb into the trees and remove hanging limbs. As the back side of Hurricane Florence passed over the park, it snapped the tops out of many of the park’s loblolly pines and tore branches out of hardwoods.

“There is still plenty of shade down there in the campground, but there are some holes poked in the canopy,” Helms said.

In New Bern, state-owned Tryon Palace reopened most of its facilities on Sept. 29. Visitors can tour the palace, kitchen office, historic grounds and gardens and the New Bern Academy Museum. The Dixon house, which the website says sustained the worst damage, will be closed for repairs for a while. Staff and volunteers also are working to repair damage to the North Carolina History Center.

The Tryon Palace Foundation has started a Hurricane Florence Recovery Fund which will be used to help the historic site recover and also will support the New Bern Relief Fund, to aid those who are struggling after the city was hit by record flooding.

Some federally-owned properties also suffered by being in Florence’s path.

Moore’s Creek.jpg
Matthew Woods Courtesy of National Park Service

Moore’s Creek National Battlefield, a unit of the national park system in Pender County, was badly damaged. The site of a 1776 battle between Loyalist forces and North Carolina Patriots remains closed after being inundated by the creek for which it’s named. Facebook photos of the flooding show water more than 4 feet deep on the site, and water marks high on the buildings as the flooding receded.

Cape Lookout National Seashore, just south of Ocracoke Island, has reopened some facilities but others remain closed. According to the park, the visitors’ centers in Beaufort and Harkers Island are open, and day use is allowed at North Core Banks, South Core Banks and Shackleford Banks. Portsmouth Island has reopened and is accessible by ferry out of Ocracoke, or by private boat.

The Long Point Cabins on Portsmouth are expected to remain closed the rest of the season. Seven Cabins on Great Island, near the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, will reopen on Oct. 5, according to the park service.

The Cape Lookout Lighthouse, which normally would be closed for the season, will be open this weekend to make up for having to close for the hurricane. The Park Service will waive ticket fees for those climbing the lighthouse, but there will be no advance tickets. Visitors must come to the site to get a ticket.

This will be the last time the public can climb the lighthouse in 2018.

The Appalachian Trail, which runs through North Carolina, has reopened but the Appalachian Trail Conservancy says some campsites may not be usable.

Federal parks are eligible for some federal funds and also sometimes get help from volunteers and from the National Park Foundation, which runs a disaster relief fund.

B.G. Horvat, chief of interpretation and a spokesman for Cape Lookout National Seashore, said storm costs still are being tallied as work gets done, but so far the park has been able to fund the work through its existing budget.

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