Walter Clark

Executive Director

Current and previous titles:

  • N.C. Sea Grant,1980's-2007
  • Executive Director, Blue Ridge Conservancy 2008-2017
  • Executive Director, Clean Water Management Trust Fund & Director, Division of Land and Water Stewardship, N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
  • APNEP Service: APNEP Policy Board Chair, mid-2000's

Walter Clark has a long history of working to balance the protection of North Carolina’s natural resources with the livelihoods of its people. After working as a staff attorney for the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, Clark was North Carolina Sea Grant’s coastal law, planning, and policy specialist for over two decades. Clark left N.C. Sea Grant in 2008 to take a position as the Executive Director of the Blue Ridge Conservancy, a land conservancy in North Carolina’s High Country. In 2017, Clark accepted a position as Executive Director of the state’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund and Director of the Division of Land and Water Stewardship within the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Can you tell us a bit about your current position?

Currently, I have two titles - I’m Executive Director of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and Director of the Division of Land and Water Stewardship. The Trust Fund was established in 1996 as a non-regulatory organization focused on protecting the restoring the State’s water resources. In 2013, the mission was expanded to include natural, cultural, and historic resources as well as protecting land critical to the military mission.  The CWMTF makes grants to non-profits and government to protect land, restore degraded streams, and develop and improve stormwater treatment technology. Our clients in turn work with willing landowners, engineers and private contractors to complete the projects.

stormwater improvement project

Again, CWMTF was born as a way to work with folks on a voluntary basis and avoid regulation. In that sense, it has been hugely successful not only in protecting land and water, but educating our citizens about why this is important. The Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine Study, APNEPs’ predecessor organization, incorporated the recommendation for the establishment of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund in its first Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan. The Trust Fund was established a few years later.

My role as Director of the Division of Land and Water Resources also includes working with Misty Buchanan, director of the The North Carolina Natural Heritage Program. One of the important missions of this program is working with the public and clients to provide natural resource information needed to weigh the ecological significance of various sites and to weigh the impacts of development on those sites.

How have you have been involved with APNEP, present or past? What does it mean to you to be an APNEP partner?

I was chair of APNEP’s Policy Board the mid-2000’s. Besides that, I’ve worked around APNEP a lot but not in any kind of formal position. As a legal specialist for North Carolina Sea Grant, I felt like I was working as an interpreter between scientists and policy makers. So what Sea Grant was doing, often in collaboration with the APNEP program, and what I was doing, in working with the legislature and other state agencies, was very much directly and indirectly involved with the Albemarle-Pamlico area and the issues and needs there.

When I worked at Sea Grant, we had a close working partnership with APNEP, a really synergistic relationship. Sea Grant and its researchers provided a lot of information that gave direction for APNEP and that was really helpful.

Tell us how your work has contributed to identifying, protecting, and restoring the resources of the Albemarle-Pamlico system. 

A lot of the work I’ve done has been in planning, law, and policy; one study we did was looking at use of public trust waters - how could people who want to utilize the estuarine shoreline to support themselves economically do that in a way that provides them with that livelihood, but also protects the environment? Oftentimes, some of those traditional uses – fish houses, marinas – are very much tied to the resource that good environmental protection protects.

shad fishermen

When I was working on these issues during the 1990’s and 2000’s, there was also a real increase in nontraditional development along the coast that impacted estuarine and coastal shorelines. A lot of my work was looking at how you could protect traditional uses and balance them against the nontraditional uses that were moving in and in some cases supplanting them. As an example, an area with a traditional fish house, where local fishermen can take their catch for distribution to a wider market, all of a sudden becomes a place that people want to live. The traditional fish house gets pushed out; some people use the word gentrification. Oftentimes it was because the property would become so valuable, traditional folks couldn’t afford to pay their taxes on it. How do you resolve something like that? Should you just say that according to the free market system, traditional uses don’t cut it? Or should you work and try to find a balance? A lot of my work was involved in trying to find that balance.

wanchese fishermen

How have attitudes towards the Albemarle-Pamlico region changed since APES (APNEP’s predecessor organization) began in the late 1980’s? What new challenges do we face today?

I think public attitudes about the Albemarle-Pamlico region have changed since APES/APNEP began, mostly because there’s been a lot of public education efforts over the last twenty to thirty years. I think people are more aware of the environmental services that estuaries provide. With that awareness, there comes an understanding that these areas do need to be protected.

Certainly though, the last few years have brought new challenges and new needs. One would be climate change and rising sea levels – I mean, people have been aware of that for a long time, but it hasn’t been incorporated into land use policy or addressed in a meaningful way. One of the studies I did almost twenty years ago examined climate change and sea level rise - the impacts that certain rates of sea level rise would have on barrier islands and on North Carolina. Like Florida and other states, North Carolina is still building in areas that, according to most scientists, could be underwater or greatly impacted by sea level rise in the next few decades.

Given your experiences across North Carolina, do you have any advice for organizations like APNEP that take a watershed approach to management?

I always fall back on the importance of education, starting with preschoolers and all the way up to senior citizens. And when you can, use real world examples of potential water quality impacts in the educational process. People remember the things that they can imagine impacting them.

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