Buffering Camp Butner, Protecting Water Quality

October 19, 2020

By military standards, Camp Butner is small in size. The military base totals just 4,900 acres, half of which lies in Granville County and half in Durham County. To the NC National Guard, Camp Butner is their most vital installation to prepare soldiers and airmen for the day that they may be deployed to military conflict abroad or mobilized to respond to a disaster here at home. In recent years, Camp Butner has also become an important training facility for military personnel based at Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune, and Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base. As a result, Camp Butner is used for military training almost every day of the week.

Camp Butner happens to sit in the headwaters of the Upper Neuse River Basin. The streams that flow through the installation feed into three reservoirs that supply drinking water to numerous nearby cities and towns – Lake Holt in Granville County, Lake Michie in Durham County, and Falls Lake in Wake County. Land use on Camp Butner and the properties that surround the base can impact water quality in streams.

As residential growth has accelerated northward from the Triangle in recent years, military officials have grown concerned that undeveloped properties near Camp Butner’s boundary could be converted to neighborhoods. Noise from machine gun ranges and military helicopters flying overhead can be disconcerting to new homeowners, who could put pressure on the state and federal officials to reduce military training activities on Camp Butner. Recognizing the future risks, the federal Department of Defense enlisted TRLC and the Triangle Land Conservancy to preserve undeveloped land within one mile of Camp Butner’s boundary, with TRLC working in Granville County and Triangle Land Conservancy in Durham County.

Water quality officials are also concerned about human population growth in the Upper Neuse River Basin. Many fear that upstream residential development will increase runoff of pollution and sediment into the streams that flow into drinking water reservoirs.

Since 2017, the Department of Defense has awarded several grants to TRLC to acquire undeveloped land around Camp Butner. TRLC has leveraged military funding to secure generous matching grants from programs that support drinking water protection – the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund, NC Environmental Enhancement Grant Program, City of Raleigh’s Watershed Protection Program, and Duke Energy’s Water Resources Fund. As of August 2020, TRLC had purchased nine tracts totaling 1,295 acres within the one-mile buffer of Camp Butner. All properties were acquired from landowners who are happy to see their land pass into TRLC’s hands, knowing that the land will forever remain forest and fields.

TRLC staff is working closely with Camp Butner officials to ensure that management of TRLC’s neighboring tracts is compatible with activities on the base. Many of TRLC’s properties will only be accessible to the general public during scheduled outings to lessen chances of trespassing onto the base. Nature hikes and tree planting events held on the TRLC’s Gantt and Hunter Tracts have allowed TRLC staff to showcase two of these properties over the last eighteen months. More hikes are planned in the future.

With the NC National Guard’s blessing, TRLC is currently working on plans to create public trails on one of its properties acquired with military funding support – a 55-acre property located on Roberts Chapel Road purchased from the nonprofit Grace Ministries of Durham in 2019. Once permits are approved by the Town of Butner, TRLC will begin trail construction with help of volunteers, hopefully starting in fall 2020. The future public conservation area is expected to offer 1½ miles of trails winding through beautiful hardwood forest. The trailhead will be located on Roberts Chapel Road just a short drive from the towns of Butner and Stem. Stay tuned for opportunities to get involved!

In the meantime, TRLC’s work to preserve land and water around Camp Butner continues. More opportunities exist for TRLC to marry the conservation community’s objectives with military’s objectives. Conversations continue with landowners and additional acquisitions are expected. Keeping the land around Camp Butner undeveloped means that a neighborhood won’t be built along Camp Butner’s boundary that could interrupt military training. As importantly, the streams on these lands will be continue to be fed by forests, fields, and wetlands, which will help diminish rather than worsen water quality problems in the Upper Neuse Basin. Truly wins for everyone.