Author: Laura Oleniacz
If travel is part of your plans for the new year, then it’s probably time to update your passport. Your North Carolina Wetlands Passport, that is.
The N.C. Wetlands Passport is a printable map and list of 240 wetlands on public lands or publicly accessible property in North Carolina – including wetlands in local, state or national parks or forests, and on state game lands. The passport, which was created by the DEQ Division of Water Resources Ecosystem Branch, is available in both English and Spanish.
Along with an online interactive map called “Public Wetlands Near You,” residents and visitors can use the N.C. Wetlands Passport to research wetland destinations across the state, find addresses of where to access them and keep an updated list of which ones they’ve visited.
“This passport and interactive map give people a mission to accomplish, and hopefully will get people excited to visit our wetlands, and to see the huge variety of wetlands that we have in our state,” said Kristie Gianopulos, a senior environmental specialist with the DWR Ecosystem Branch. “We wanted to educate North Carolinians and help them to see the beauty in these places.”
Gianopulos said DWR staff created the passport and map as educational tools to help people understand and appreciate the state’s publicly accessible wetlands, and to also offer a way for people to visit them even if they can’t travel there on their own.
They can virtually visit many of the wetlands on the map by viewing 360-degree photos taken in the wetlands. Links to these photos are in popups for each site in the map.
To create the map and passport, staff searched for wetlands on public or publicly accessible lands. Then they visited the sites to learn about them, photograph them and create videos.
They mapped each wetland on the interactive map, and added photos as well as directions, and information about whether there are opportunities for hiking, paddling, fishing, hunting or camping and whether the sites are wheelchair-accessible.
“For some people, it might just seem like wetlands are full of mosquitoes, and worthy of being filled in,” Gianopulos said. “But they’re incredibly beautiful, and they’re also critically important for many of our rare and endangered species. When you put water into a place, it just explodes with life.”
Gianopulos said one of her favorites sites is the Suggs Mill Pond Game Land because of a lake on the property called Horseshoe Lake.
“You can paddle around the lake and see amazing view of cypress trees and water lilies,” she said. “It’s completely stunning.”
Another notable site was Boiling Spring Lakes Preserve. The park has carnivorous plants and other unique vegetation in its wetlands.
“We are wetland scientists, but going to these places, and seeing a whole new set of animals or plants from one end of the state to another, it really hammered home how amazing the biodiversity is in our state’s wetlands,” she said.
In addition to the passport and interactive map, you can also find activities for teachers on ncwetlands.org to educate their students about wetlands, a free photo and video gallery, facts about the state’s wetlands and a detailed guide to plants that are found in the state’s wetlands.