Saturday, July 20, 2024

First dragonfly pond in the state to be installed at Belville’s Riverwalk Park

The pond will be built in the marsh area adjacent to the Duke Energy Educational Pavillion, shown above. (Carl Blankenship/Port City Daily)

BELVILLE — A small pond to be built in a local park got a big reception Monday night.

Lynn Gavin stood up in front of the Belville Board of Commissioners and told them why the town needs to build the state’s first dragonfly pond in Riverwalk Park: It will kill a lot of mosquitoes and be an educational asset for local kids.

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A Belville Parks and Recreation Board member, Gavin sold the project as a natural benefit to the park, and one the town could maintain easily and even net some money. 

“Everything is going toward negativity for towns and communities,” town parks and recreation board Vice-Chair Joe Cranford said. “The land’s being taken away, more building, all negative stuff. This is a chance for Belville to throw something positive out there.”

The project is expected to cost between $1,672 and $2,162, to be covered by the park and recreation board’s fundraising efforts. If all shirts, raffle tickets and sponsorships are sold, and the pond lining materials are donated, the park could make a net $4,527 gain on the endeavor.

The pond will be stocked with dragonfly nymphs. The aquatic juveniles spend two to three years burrowed in mud and emergie to eat every mosquito larva they can find before transforming into adult dragonflies. 

The adults eat full-fledged mosquitoes, to the tune of 100 every day. Yet, they only live for a few weeks to a few months depending on the species. They also eat other pests like termites and horseflies.

Brenda Hewlett, secretary to the parks and recreation board, said the idea came from a former board member, so she and Gavin sorted through the details over the course of the past year.

The board leaned on the experience of another small town to help build its framework. In Wells, Maine, the town has been stocking dragonflies in ponds since 1976.

Eleanor Vladinay, president of the Wells Chamber of Commerce, sent a message to the board saying the program is so popular residents in Wells purchase 12,000 to 14,000 nymphs every year to stock ponds.

The Belville project will be restocked with about 120 nymphs every three years for about $320 a shipment from live organism supplier Carolina.

Gavin said the pond should reduce but not eliminate mosquitoes in the park and without using insecticides. 

A concern from the commissioners was whether the nymphs will be killed off by the county’s chemical insecticide program. The town reached out to Clarke Manufacturing and was told the spray should not harm dragonflies, nor should it reach the pond.

The plan for the pond includes planting cover to protect the nymphs from predatory birds like kingfishers.

Slated to be built next to the Duke Energy-sponsored education pavilion at the entrance to the park’s nature trail, the area is used to host science classes for local schools, with a nature trail on one side and the riverfront on the other. The pond would add a third asset so kids can learn about the life cycle of dragonflies in person and the conservation issues facing them.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 16% of the world’s dragonfly species are at risk of going extinct because their wetland habitats are being destroyed.

A map of the park showing the proposed location of the pond off the nature trail.

Commissioner Chuck Bost said he questioned the project at first because the mosquito mitigation was suboptimal but eventually came around, especially on the educational part of hte project and when learning this will be the only pond of its kind in the state. Speaking to PCD, he pointed out the pavilion and nature trails are on one side of the parking lot at the Riverwalk, but the most trafficked areas of the park are on the other side, where the town has playgrounds and shelters.

“Dragonflies don’t travel very far, so, really, the area they’d be effective in controlling is over here,” Bost said, pointing to an area surrounding the pavilion on a park map.

Parks and Recreation Director Jim Bucher said the town will have to replenish the water in the 10-to-15-foot wide pond because evaporation will outpace the rainfall.

The parks and rec department will build the project itself, but the parks board plans to help maintain it.

“It’s not just a one-person job,” Gavin said. “It’s all of us. We love our park, and I hope you see that with us trying to come up with something that is not a cost to the county, the township or the parks department.”

Brooke Benton, a Raleigh-based artist who grew up in Wilmington, created and donated a piece of art work to be raffled off in support of the project. The painting, titled “Resting on the Riverwalk,” depicts a dragonfly landing on a pond.

“A lot of people would pay good money for that,” Mayor Mike Allen said.

Brooke Benton’s “Resting on the Riverwalk,” which will be raffled off to support the pond project.

Natural scenes are Benton’s specialty. Her work can also be seen in a current exhibit on display at Gallery Verrazzano in Wilmington, hosted by The Artworks of Wilmington and the N.C. Wildlife Artist Society.

Town Manager Athina Williams told the commissioners that grantors may be interested in the project, pointing to Duke as an entity perhaps willing to support it in the future.

The board had a consensus and didn’t need a vote on the issue. Allen asked Williams to get final estimates together and bring them to the board for approval. A timeline for the project has not been created yet.

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