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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Eco-Volunteering in the Queen City - Getting dirty in your down time

By Lisa Moore

By simply existing in the urban grid, we unfortunately widen the distance between us and the environment every day. With an inescapable emphasis on technology and progress, our dependence on biodiversity weakens and our connection to nature wanes. The constant incoming stream of stimuli we must stay focused on can stress us out, dampen our spirits and affect our health.

Luckily Charlotte has several environmental organizations that will not only reconnect you to Mother Nature, but will help you to get proactive in caring for the animals, plants, land and air that are dear to us. So put down the Blackberry and pick up a shovel, drop the remote and hop in a boat. Make a difference in enhancing and protecting your ecosphere.

Habitat and Wildlife Keepers If you aren't in awe of nature, you aren't paying attention.

In 2002, Carol Buie-Jackson and some fellow gardeners and wildlife enthusiasts adopted Squirrel Lake Park in Matthews and worked tediously to enhance it. They added nesting boxes, feeders and wildlife gardens and had it certified as a Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.

The Wildlife Federation was impressed enough to invite the informal group to form a pilot chapter as a grassroots organization that would help establish habitats and raise ecological awareness. Habitat and Wildlife Keepers (HAWK) was established in 2006 and there are now eight other chapters around the state.

HAWK is a network of like-minded individuals that share resources, information and local conservation news. The group raises awareness of the need, importance and ease of acting locally to impact the environment globally. They practice stewardship by performing local conservation projects and create a local presence and unified voice for representation on conservation issues.

The group is committed to preserving, protecting and restoring wildlife habitats in the southeast area of the Charlotte. “Our primary goal is education and to reconnect people with nature,” says HAWK President and Habitat Steward, Carol Buie-Jackson. “We strive to make people more aware of what is going on in their own backyard.”

Informative meetings with guest speakers are held monthly from Sept-May and topics include: landscape design, recycling, beekeeping, hummingbirds, waterfowl rescue and how to create a backyard habitat. The meetings are free, open to the public and children are welcome.

To get your hands dirty visit or

Mecklenburg Audubon Society It’s for the birds!

It’s been said that bird watching is your lifetime ticket to the theater of nature. The mission of the Audubon Society of North Carolina is to help conserve and restore the habitats we share with all wildlife, focusing on the needs of birds. The organization achieves its mission through a blend of science-based research and conservation, education and outreach and advocacy.

Mecklenburg Audubon members are involved in a wide variety of conservation projects and issues. “Our programs generally focus on birds and local wildlife identification and conservation,” says Judy Walker, president of the Charlotte chapter. “We also conduct field trips both locally and in other regions of the Carolinas. In the spring and fall we offer beginning bird walks for those just getting started identifying birds in their backyard.”

The group has adopted Evergreen Nature Preserve which protects a diversity of habitats and attracts a variety of migratory birds, especially during fall and spring migration. They routinely conduct field trips to the preserve and work to clean it up and beat back the invasive species that threaten to take over areas of the preserve.

Mecklenburg Audubon also participates in a number of national projects as well, including the Great Backyard Bird Count, which Charlotte often ranks in the top of the nation for number of reports submitted. Members can also participate in the Christmas Bird Count, an all-day census of early-winter bird populations, as well as the Birdhouse Network, which monitors nest boxes and collects valuable information about birds.

Walker urges local citizens to assist birds in their own back yard with food, water, shelter and places to nest.

Get out your binoculars and go to NC Native Plant Society Creating an ecosystem that protects our environment

Established in 1951, The NC Native Plant Society’s purpose is to promote enjoyment and conservation of North Carolina's native plants and their habitats through education, protection, propagation and advocacy.

“Our native plants are in danger of habitat loss due to development and deforestation,” says Jean Woods, Education Chair for the NC Native Planet Society and past president of the Charlotte chapter. “When an area is being developed or cleared the group gets permission to go in ahead of the bulldozers to dig up any native plants that might be there. We use these plants to propagate new plants, to use in public gardens and to use for sales to the public,” says Woods.

Monthly meetings are held at the green house at UNCC and consist of a lecture, workshop or field trip designed to educate members about using native plants in the home garden or identifying and propagating native them. Members are invited to participate in rescues and help create public gardens. The group also gathers for plant and seed exchanges, auctions, picnics and other events.

Woods believes learning about native plants helps to get in touch with the natural heritage of our region. “I have learned what plants would have been plentiful by our streams, what trees would be on our slopes and what plants were in our prairies,” she states. “Since our native plants have been growing here for millenniums, they are adapted to our soil, water and light.  They are intimately connected to our birds, butterflies and wildlife.”

Adding natives to your yard attracts many more birds and butterflies and feeds into the web of life that has been in the Charlotte area for thousands of years. Encouraging native plants is a worthwhile and rewarding endeavor.

Break out your shovel and visit

The Central Piedmont Sierra Club Exploring and protecting the planet

Since it’s inception in 1892, The Sierra Club has strived to explore, enjoy and protect the planet. The Central Piedmont Group of the NC Sierra Club fervently fulfills that mission. Their community involvement falls into three categories: outings, conservation and political advocacy.

Trained Sierra Club members lead hiking, backpacking and/or paddling trips to some of our region’s most beautiful places, such as the Great Smokey Mountains and places closer to home like the Anne Springs Close Greenway.

Local Chapter Chair Josh Thomas says the bulk of grass-roots volunteer work falls under the conservation umbrella. Community events such as fall tree planting in the Mountain Island Lake watershed and local gardening projects are popular. Members have been busy preparing for Charlotte Clean & Green, an Earth Day festival held April 17th and 18th.

The group is also working to keep our air clean. “We always need volunteers for our efforts to stop the construction of the Cliffside coal-burning power plant,” he states.

Advocating for specific candidates is an important aspect of the club’s agenda. “We interview local candidates for office and make endorsements for candidates whom we feel best understand the importance of environmental decisions and are most likely to support legislation favorable to this line of thinking,” says Thomas. Upon endorsing a candidate, members may help with fundraising, phone banking, canvassing or other efforts in support of them.

“In the fall of 2009, all nine of our endorsed candidates in our footprint - from County Commission to US President - won their races,” concludes Thomas. Put on your backpack and hike to

The Catawba Lands Conservancy Protecting Our Environment for the Future

Catawba Lands Conservancy is a nonprofit land trust that permanently protects land, water and wildlife habitat to enhance the quality of life in Mecklenburg, Catawba, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, and Union Counties.

“We preserve land for future generations, protecting drinking water and local foods, providing wildlife habitat and strengthening our communities with places for reflection and relaxation,” says Rhea Kelley, Outreach and Education Director.

In the last 20 years, Charlotte lost 26% of its total cropland and forestland for a staggering total of 300,000 acres. As the landscape continues to change due to rapid urbanization, the natural places that define this region’s character are steadily being converted for various human uses. Catawba Lands Conservancy is dedicated to balancing this inevitable growth with open space with scenic vistas, recreational trails, water access and working farms.

Catawba Lands Conservancy is the lead agency for the Carolina Thread Trail, a 15-county initiative to create a network of trails, blueways, and conservation corridors that will grow together over time linking more than 2.3 million citizens. Local communities self-determine their portions of this green interstate system with catalytic funding from The Thread.

The Conservancy works with a dedicated group of more than 300 volunteers who share their time and talents to in a variety of ways. “We are on the front lines with local communities, protecting our region’s natural heritage,” says Kelley.

Get your work gloves and go to Carolinas Clean Air Coalition Restoring Clean and Safe Air

Founded in 2002, The Carolinas Clean Air Coalition addresses local air quality issues by raising awareness, building partnerships and advocating for policy changes and individual action.

Executive Director June Blotnick says the group has three main projects for 2009. The Clean Diesel Campaign works with school systems to secure state and federal funding dollars to reduce diesel emissions from school buses that will improve air quality and provide children with a healthier ride to school.  The Clean Air Certificate Program is currently working with several schools to create “no-idling” zones for buses and cars in the carpool line.

The opposition of Duke Energy’s Cliffside coal plant 50 miles west of Charlotte has been an ongoing effort. “Reducing our dependence on dirty coal and increasing our reliance on clean, renewable sources is a key goal of our organization,” says Blotnick. The coalition has formed a Clean Energy Policy Team that will actively promote state and local policies that facilitate the expansion of solar energy, energy efficiency programs and other clean energy strategies.

“With studies indicating that Charlotte has some of the poorest air quality in the nation, the Carolinas Clean Air Coalition envisions a future in which all counties in our region surpass federal air quality standards for ozone and particle pollution,” Blotnick states.

With much important work to accomplish, Blotnick says the small nonprofit relies on volunteers to help with multiple tasks to meet their objectives. “We hope to see more educated citizens actively engaged in promoting clean air initiatives.”

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