NC Land and Water Fund honors Freeman Park

Grace Lanham, Staff Writer

Conservation efforts are being made in the Pleasure Island area. The NC Land and Water Fund honored Freeman Park with a land grant of $4 million dollars this past month, and the money will go towards preserving wildlife and the upkeep of the Carolina Beach sanctuary.

Freeman Park, active in operation for approximately 18 years, houses a variety of coastal plants and marine animals. Before it was established, the area was one of few that allowed African American families to vacation there. Home to the former Seabreeze Resort, the park was owned by the Freeman family until the land was bought from them. The $4 million dollar loan will span across the 337-acre shoreline and seek to sustain the natural environment and history of the land.

UNCW student and resident of the Wilmington area, Garrett Smith, is familiar with the Carolina Beach area and has traveled there frequently throughout his life.

“I think it’s a great thing,” said Smith. “I’m glad to see more initiatives like this in the area. It makes a difference.” Garrett stated that the Freeman Park grant is a step in the right direction for the Carolina Beach community and all residents of Wilmington.

Bruce Oakley, Town Manager of Carolina Beach, stated that the town received a $3.25 million dollar loan to pay for the $7 million dollar land. The grant money will help the town pay off the loan and set up conservation efforts to protect it for many years to come. Oakley also mentioned that the Council of Carolina Beach plans to incorporate educational aspects, as well as trails for physical activity, and a potential statue to honor the Freeman Family.

“People from everywhere will get an opportunity to appreciate what is out there and the beauty and diversity of nature,” added Oakley.

“We have a competitive grant process that considers many criteria,” said Will Summer, Executive Director of the NC Land and Water Fund. “The Freeman Park project checked a lot of boxes for us.”

The NC Land and Water Fund looks specifically for candidates that guard unpolluted areas, make environmental contributions and rehabilitate wetlands. The application process for the grant includes meetings with officials and site tours to ensure that the NC Land and Water Fund is making a thoroughly informed decision. Summer also mentioned that Freeman Park was a desirable choice due to its expansive and innate coastline, as well as a collection of species, specifically naming leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles, saltmarsh sparrows and American oystercatchers.

One of the components of receiving the grant is the promise to enact conservation efforts on the land that is being awarded. Oakley explained that with the gift of the grant, Freeman Park must maintain the security of natural wildlife, pay off the loan that was used to buy the land and replenish reserves. The Town Hall is also working on an assortment of projects, including improvements to Lake Park, playgrounds and new sidewalks.

Carolina Beach Town Hall states they are proud of the work they have done to achieve this award for the community. They believe that, with the generosity of the NC Land and Water Fund, Freeman Park will be a beach that will be maintained and enjoyed for years to come.

“In every council, you want to have a signature or something that you’re remembered by 50 years from now,” said Mayor Pro Tem and Council Member Jay Healy. “That’s going to be ours.”