Is it serendipity that the core of a 3100 acre island in the middle of two of the most rapidly urbanizing counties of North Carolina is still available to provide a missing park larger than 843 acre Central Park in New York City? Eagles Island is surrounded on its west flank by Leland, Navassa and Belville and other emergent towns that will soon knit together with a population of 100,000 or more residents. On its east flank , Eagles Island is abutted by the booming, historic city of Wilmington and New Hanover County, also rapidly growing, and already exceeding several hundred thousand residents.
While the Central Park analogy applies in terms of shared usage of a beautiful environment, the vision for Eagles Island is focused on preservation in its natural state with education and recreation the means by which preservation will be appreciated, encouraged and financed.
Thus, the focus will be on the nature walk and trails that will access carefully selected sites to be preserved, historic sites and link together the surrounding communities with the Island and with each other. Over time, appropriate structures are contemplated, such as an Interpretive Center, Maritime Museum, Boat rental office, gift shop and food service facilities all connected by trails. All of which in appearance would be appropriate in a historic park environment. The immediate need is for the two counties, working closely with the abutting cities and towns, to consider carefully how to carry out the preservation, education and recreation agenda for Eagles Island.
Wilmington’s prescient and ever relevant “Vision 2020” report clearly identifies RWF’s first priority: “Actively protect the West Bank of the Cape Fear River by officially designating it as open space and working to provide recreational opportunities.” Walking, jogging and biking are among the recommended uses for the green ribbon of parks and network of trails to surround and link Wilmington and environs. While Wilmington acting as a City does not have jurisdiction over the western edge of the Cape Fear, Brunswick and New Hanover Counties do. All should work together to accomplish the environmental protection, education and recreation agendas that the Eagles Island Coalition’s Comprehensive Plan recommends. Eagles Island has a rich history of adapting to successive user populations and purposes.
First, of course, were the Native American tribes who freely roamed the island, no doubt for its natural resources of game and fish. They remained until early settlers saw the land as ideal for rice cultivation, and plantations specializing in building rice paddies began to dominate the coastal landscape. Plantations sought talented Gullah Geechee slaves from West Africa, who became the residents creating, maintaining and harvesting the rice crops. Later, the Island was developed for boat building and Naval Stores product production sourced from pine products. An Interpretive facility, signage or smartphone based narrative, more likely a combination of the three, would tell the Eagles Island history to visitors.
If key properties can be preserved and a park created, one scenario is that it could be an extension of the Battleship Memorial, which is an important shrine to its military heritage and tastefully maintained. Whether affiliated with the Battleship or technically a separate entity, having physical connectivity to the Battleship could result in 4-500,000 visitors to the Battleship also visiting the Park with excellent visitor complementarity, to the advantage of both. A developer is proposing a mixed use project on the parcels adjacent to the Battleship. RWF is working with a core team of half dozen or so of the EI experts seeking to find an alternative to the proposed development.