The goal:  that people in Durham can someday jump into sections of Ellerbe Creek without worrying about what’s inside, and that they can experience nature in a safe way in their backyard.


“The impact on the community is long-term,” said Chris Dreps, executive director of Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association.  “We’re in it for the long haul.”

The Association is one of 9 recipients of Triangle Community Foundation’s three new Environmental Conservation grant programs.  The Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association received a total of $58,900 to fund three projects – building a community nature preserve at a section of Ellerbe Creek called The Rocks, engaging the community to improve the creek’s water quality though “green infrastructure,” and supporting the expansion of the Pearl Mill nature preserve.

The project at The Rocks will be finished by September 2016 and open up a unique 2.5-acre section of the creek with rocky outcroppings along the water, off of Broad Street in Durham.  With support from the Foundation’s Public Benefit grant program the Watershed Association will be adding trails, benches, bike racks, and other amenities that make the area accessible to the community.

“You’ll be able to see pretty, undisturbed woods. You’ll see a part of Ellerbe Creek that is really unique, that is rock substrate and really beautiful,” said Celeste Burns, director of conservation.

The second grant from the Foundation’s Awareness program will allow Dreps to continue community outreach and host workshops for neighborhoods, schools, and businesses along the creek’s most urban segment. The goal is to teach people how to create rain gardens and other non-traditional forms of stormwater management.  This green infrastructure allows people to help clean storm water before it reaches the creek, improving the water quality of both the creek and Falls Lake.  The grant will also expand the project’s website,

A third Transaction grant will create a meaningful and sustainable open space by removing non-native plants, replacing them with native low-maintenance, low-growing plants, and creating a simple demonstration rain garden at the Pearl Mill nature preserve.  The land, donated by Duke Energy, is located between downtown Durham and I-85 along the South Ellerbe Creek Greenway under power lines.

As an organization made up mostly of volunteers and that partners with a number of local groups to accomplish its goals, Dreps said receiving the grant money has allowed them to move forward with projects that otherwise would have been scaled down. “(The grant) is supporting a big part of our new and growing watershed restoration program,” he said.

Planning for the future

Conservation Trust for North Carolina, received two grants this fall to support their work.

A Public Benefit grant will allow the organization to expand its Youth Conservation Corps.  The program puts together crews of about 10 people ages 16-24 and pays them minimum wage to work 7 weeks of the summer.  Crews go out to work on projects that can include habitat restoration, constructing and maintaining trails, and planting trees and community gardens

“That’s about 40-50 young people out on the land in North Carolina working in different communities with a variety of different partners, everything from state parks to local governments to other land trusts,” said Caitlin Burke, special projects and grant coordinator.  “It’s a youth development program that uses the natural world as a platform for teaching stewardship, job and life skills, community service, and personal responsibility.” Not everyone can commit to a long summer project, so the four new weekend projects each year will give more youth the chance to experience the program.

The Conservation Trust also received an Awareness grant to continue developing a strategic plan for farmland in the region using mapping software to take stock of the land in Wake, Chatham, Orange, Durham and Johnston counties. This will allow for better regional planning, as well as help established farmers connect to new farmers who are looking for land.

Land is a farmer’s number one resource, Burke said.  “If we can find ways to protect farmland by building local food economies, then not only do we protect farmland, we also ensure a strong agricultural economy here in North Carolina.”

Environmental Conservation

The grants, which will be awarded annually, are a part of the Foundation’s community programs. Grants were $10,000 – $25,000.  In total, 12 grants totaling $204,266 were awarded to 9 organizations through the three grant programs.

“These grant programs look to conserve our resources and promote sustainability, especially in a time when the region’s faced with the loss of green space and our water quality is being challenged,” said Libby Richards, senior community programs officer.