Marty Lanier has many plans for the 57-plus acre Brunswick County property that’s been in his family since the early 1900s, but development is not one of them.
Sometime in the early 1900s his grandfather and uncle moved from Onslow County to Brunswick County.
“My granddaddy bought this land from his uncle,” Lanier says of the Town Creek property where he has spent much of his life.
The acreage, which is divided by Rock Creek Road, was split in the 1960s between Lanier’s father and aunt. Lanier’s father got the west half. He still lives in a house on the site where his home was as a child, but ownership of the land passed to Lanier a while back. His brother also lives on the land, which runs along Slab Branch, a Town Creek tributary.
“We’ve been on this land a long time,” Lanier says.
The family grew tobacco on the land, then slash pine. They also raised hogs and grew typical Southern garden crops. Lanier says the slash pine is native to Georgia and doesn’t grow well in our area. He plans to cut it all down.
With the blessing of his family, including his wife, Cyndi, Lanier gifted a perpetual landowner agreement (also known as a conservation easement) for the land to North Carolina Coastal Land Trust at the end of 2016. The gift also included a contribution of several thousand dollars to an endowment for annual monitoring of the property.
With the addition of the Lanier family land, more than 7,000 acres in Brunswick County is under protection through North Carolina Coastal Land Trust.
“The main thing I’m trying to do now is to convert the land back to the natural longleaf forest,” Lanier says. “Part of it is longleaf pine. I’m working, burning a lot, trying to manage it for longleaf pine timber.”
Lanier says he’s not trying to maximize any timber money, but rather trying to restore the habitat. “What I’m doing is similar to what Henry Bacon is doing at Orton, but he’s doing it on 6,000 acres and I’m doing it on 50,” he says.
Lanier notes that longleaf pine once covered 93 million acres in the southeastern United States from Virginia to Texas. “It was the dominant landscape in the southeast until a couple of hundred years ago,” he says. Used to produce turpentine and tar for the naval stores business, which made Wilmington a major port, the supply was eventually exhausted. The trees were cut and not replanted.
Today there are about six million acres of longleaf pine in the southeast, Lanier says. “A lot of species of animals and plants depend on that open grassy habitat of the longleaf pine,” he says. “In a square yard of a properly managed longleaf habitat, you can find more species of plants than anywhere in the world except the Amazon rain forest.”
Lanier notes that unlike loblolly pine, longleaf pine growth is dependent on fire.
The seeds won’t germinate unless they are touching bare soil. Longleaf has to have fire to clear out the undergrowth, so the seeds will germinate. Otherwise, other species take over the land, and that’s what’s happened here. There’s also been a lot of land cleared for farming, shopping centers, houses and other development, he notes.
Interest in restoring the habitat is gaining traction, Lanier says. “I’ve been to a lot of seminars and classes. Coastal Land Trust focuses on this. Another priority is the Cape Fear River system, and Town Creek, and I’m in the headwaters of that system.”
Lanier admits the tax benefit of entering the agreement figured into its timing, but he says he had been considering the move for several years. “I grew up on that land, and I didn’t want to see it developed,” he says. “I always wanted the land to be protected. That’s the bottom line.”
He and his son have worked together on the property, cutting out and selling firewood. “That’s part of the long leaf pine restoration – thinning out the hardwood,” he says. “In a true ecosystem, there would be very few if any hardwoods.”
They’ll continue cleaning out the undergrowth, but will leave a few hardwoods to produce acorns for the squirrels, deer and turkeys that live on the land.
Lanier’s son, Jonathan, and daughter, Amanda, hunt with him on the property. Jonathan will attend N.C. State this fall to study forestry. “Working on the land with me, and me teaching him about timber and wildlife, I think that’s what influenced him,” Lanier says.
“When I pass on, it will go to them; they’ll own it,” Lanier says. “If they want to maintain it and make money off the timber or straw rake, they can do it. Longleaf pine straw is a superior needle. It’s longer, heavier, lasts longer. They’ll be able to make a little money off of it. I hope they don’t sell [the land], but if they do, it’s still protected, either way.”
About North Carolina Coastal Land Trust
North Carolina Coastal Land Trust works with landowners to save special lands at the coast. Since 1992 North Carolina Coastal Land Trust has helped save 68,000 acres of land in coastal North Carolina. North Carolina Coastal Land Trust has offices in Wilmington, New Bern and Elizabeth City. If you would like more information visit coastallandtrust.org.
Story By Teresa A. McLamb
Photograph by Mark Steelman