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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

Communique: Ambassador Program At NC Coastal Federation

Jessica Gray at work

The North Carolina Coastal Federation is seeking Ambassadors. Coastal Outreach Associate, Jessica Gray, is in charge of finding them.

Listen above to hear about what's going on with NCCF and what it means to be an Ambassador. The next Ambassador training is Walk the Loop for Clean Water on March 14, 10:00am-Noon.

Gina:     Go ahead and introduce yourself.

Jessica:  I am Jessica Gray. I'm the Coastal Outreach Associate for the North Carolina Coastal Federation Southeast Office.

Gina:     What is the Coastal Federation?

Jessica:  We are an environmental non-profit conservation organization and we work to protect and restore water quality and coastal habitats along the North Carolina coast line.

Gina:     What's the biggest challenge right now for your organization?

Jessica:  We do a lot of work with storm water retrofits, reducing that volume of storm water pollution that's getting into our local creeks and waterways.

Gina:     That's the stuff that goes into the drains on the roads.

Jessica:  Right, right.

Gina:     The stuff that comes off of your yard.

Jessica:  Yes.

Gina:     And stuff that comes off of your driveway if it's paved.

Jessica:  Right. So it's picking up pollution along the way and it goes right into the storm drains untreated. So it's causing shellfish closures, swim advisories, and can be harmful flooding too.

Gina:     You know, the last time I talked to the Coastal Federation, it was the same big issue. And that was over a year ago, I think. Is that getting worse? Is it getting better?

Jessica:  We've got projects to help reduce that volume. As we continue to develop, we try and educate people on the different things that you can do to reduce storm water pollution and that volume reduction. So it's low impact development.

Gina:     What is retrofitting?

Jessica:  Retrofitting is going back to existing construction and doing different techniques to help get that storm water to infiltrate. So some of the things that we've done, we have a project that was at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort on their sound side. We took up the lawn and dug it up and put a series of piping that allows the storm water to infiltrate into those sandy soils. So in doing that, we disconnected the two storm water outfalls that they had draining from the two acre property and instead now it's infiltrating and not going straight into Banks Channel. So it's just.

Gina:     Because what you want it to do is actually filter through the earth.

Jessica:  Right. Right. So when it's filtering through, it's taking out some of those pollutants that would go into the water and contribute to swim advisory's and shellfish closures and etc.

Gina:     For instance, 17th Street Extension where the road has a curb all the way along it and then it has drains, the water on that road will never go through the soil. And that's a bad thing.

Jessica:  Right. So some of the things that we've done at Wrightsville Beach as part of this, you can see on the Walk the Loop for Clean Water Tour, we've done some curb cuts around the storm water drain. So putting a curb cut on each side of the drain allows the water to flow into maybe a swale area and it'll filter in and seep in before it reaches the storm drain.

Gina:     It's so interesting to me that everything was set up so that it would never touch the soil, which is absolutely the worst thing, right?

Jessica:  Right. So that's why we're going back and doing these storm water retrofits. Disconnecting the traditional pathways that storm water has been taking, like you were talking about. Another thing we've done on the Walk the Loop for Clean Water Tour is around one of the other storm drains, we've done some reverse strains. So we put in drains and the pipes run into the lawn area in front of the municipal area at Wrightsville Beach and a lot of times after big rain events, it'll puddle up and it'll be flooded, but that's what we want. It's going into the lawn there and filtering instead of going straight into that storm drain and out into Mott's Channel.

Gina:     Tell me about the Coastal Federation Ambassador Program.

Jessica:  Our Ambassador Program is a special group of volunteers that we use to represent the federation at events. We have a training program for them each month so they can learn about the different projects that we're working on in a more in depth setting and also allowing them to socialize and get to know each other. Every other month we have a field training, so they get to get out and see some of our projects as well.

Gina:     What kind of person is right to be an ambassador?

Jessica:  We ask for people to be over the age of 16, but anybody that's outgoing and likes to talk to people. We've got people that are retired, we've got students. If you like being out there, going to festivals, and want to represent what the Coastal Federation is all about, clean water and healthy coastline, the Coastal Ambassador Program is definitely for you.

Gina:     What would you do if I said to you, “Jessica, I want to be an ambassador.”

Jessica:  I would say come to one of our training meetings. Sign up. You can look for events on our calendar. It's nccoast.org/events and click on the ambassador training that you're able to attend and register and when you come to the training you’ll go through an orientation where you learn about what the federation does, the history and our projects, the staff. You'll also learn about one of the projects that we're working on and so once you come you can sign up to volunteer for one of the events that we're asked to be represented at. We've got tee shirts for people. They just came in, they look really great. I'm excited for people to get their tee shirts coming up soon.

Some of the events that our ambassadors represent us at are things like the Carolina Cup Paddleboard Race, which is coming up in April. This weekend we'll be out at the Wrightsville Beach Biathlon put on by the Blockade Runner. We do Surf the Sound, Swim the Loop and other festivals like Earth Day and the Conscience Fair, etc.

Gina:     Does it cost any money to become an ambassador?

Jessica:  No, it's free. And we typically feed you at our events too.

Gina:     It's free and you get food?

Jessica:  Food, yes. The evening programs at least.

Gina:     Wow. About how many ambassadors do you have and how many do you want?

Jessica:  We have probably about 50 to 60 on our list. Not everybody continues to come back to every event. We understand people have busy schedules and conflicts, but we have probably a good core group of 15 or so that have been volunteering regularly and we'd love to get another 15 that are really engaged in wanting to volunteer.

Gina:     Tell me about the next training session.

Jessica:  Our next training is Wednesday, March 14th. It's going to be from 10-12 and we're doing the Walk the Loop for Clean Water Tour and also a watershed activity that we've done in the past. So it is going to go around the tour and show these storm water retrofits. If somebody can't make this training, people can actually do the tour on their own. We've got a website, it's walktheloop.org and you can pull that up on your smartphone and go around and see the different sites and learn about them on your own. We also just updated that website, so there's a lot of new information that hadn't been on the website previously for people to access.

Gina:     Do you guys hold a gala or fundraiser every year?

Jessica:  We do have an annual fundraiser. It's typically in the fall. This year it's September 23rd. It will be at the Blockade Runner and it's a low country boil and brew.

Gina:     Jessica, what do you spend your day doing with the Coastal Federation?

Jessica:  Wow. I do a lot of different things.

Gina:     What do you enjoy about the Coastal Federation?

Jessica:  I really enjoy our field days. We go out and do restoration volunteer events. We're building a living shoreline at the town park in Sunset Beach coming up here in the spring. So we'll have a volunteer event Saturday, March 24th where we'll have volunteers that help us bag oyster shells. We provide all the equipment and supplies and our volunteers help us make bags and crimp them off and fill them with shell and stack them to get ready for this build up of an oyster reef and living shoreline. We'll also need volunteers once we do the construction of the oyster bags. We'll use the volunteers to get into an assembly line and pass oyster bags and stack them up.

Gina:     Wow. So that's the fun part. Otherwise you have to sit at a computer and do boring stuff?

Jessica:  Yeah. So people don't realize that for every hour or so that you spend outside in the field, there's a lot of hours that you spend behind a desk to prepare for that. But it's all worth it. So I like getting out there in the salt marsh. In the summertime with our living shoreline projects, we’ll go back and fill in with salt marsh grasses. So you can find me planting and sandy and salty and sweaty in the summer.

Gina:     What was your background before you did this work that drew you to the Coastal Federation?

Jessica:  I am from Wilmington, so I grew up being on the water. It instilled my drive to protect it and be a good steward of the environment. I have a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science from UNCW and also a Master of Science in Coastal and Ocean Policy from UNCW. So it allows me to use those fancy degrees too.

Transcription Assistance by Production Assistant, Lindsay Wright