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Noteworthy News

Spring brings the rebirth of Airlie Gardens * Tour focuses on stream restoration * N.C. State, Duke scientists collaborate to find eye disease cure * Bees beset by various pests * Wake’s oldest grist mill to be centerpiece for environmental education park * Teaching pesticide safety to farm workers * Chancellor’s installation caps off eventful week * New Extension logo is flying high * Land-based technology and watershed protection demonstrated at field lab * Career Expo coming Oct. 28

Spring brings the rebirth of Airlie Gardens in Wilmington —
with help from the Cooperative Extension Service

Three major hurricanes since 1996 — Bertha, Fran and Bonnie — closed historic Airlie Gardens in Wilmington to the public. But with funding from New Hanover County and the dedication of staff members of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, Airlie Gardens reopened its gates this spring.

A wild swan glides across still waters at Airlie Gardens.The 67-acre garden, rich with azaleas, camellias, magnolias and live oaks, was purchased by New Hanover County from private owners in January for $10.5 million. When Airlie Gardens reopened in April, 7,500 people turned out to visit an old friend with her azaleas in full bloom. Over the next five years, the county will work to restore the 110-year-old landscape to its original splendor, at which time support for the gardens will come through visitors’ fees.

Dr. Bruce Williams, New Hanover County Extension director, says the opportunity to work with this garden is exciting. The county center in Wilmington is host to the New Hanover County Extension Arboretum, 6.5 acres of landscape plants and gardens. It was the expertise of New Hanover Extension staff that convinced the Corbett family of Wilmington to sell its treasured garden.

“The opportunity for Extension here is phenomenal,” says Williams. New Hanover Extension will oversee management of the garden. Other local partners, including Cape Fear Community College and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, will use the gardens for research and educational opportunities.

Extension already has plans for using Airlie Gardens as a site for educational programs. This summer, the garden is hosting a 4-H day camp, “Airlie Adventures,” which features environmental studies of the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of Airlie Gardens.

The gardens date to the 1890s, when a 300-acre tract was purchased by Pembroke Jones. Jones’s wife, Sarah Green, wanted to build a small getaway house on the property. Airlie House, which started out as a two-room shack, became an elaborate manse.

In 1912, the Joneses’ daughter, Sadie, married architect John Russell Pope, designer of the Jefferson Memorial. In the 1920s, Pope designed the garden’s Temple of Love, now located in the Landfall neighborhood development. In 1948, the property was sold to W.A. Corbett and remained in the Corbett family until it was sold earlier this year.

“We felt that it was very important to preserve this part of our history,” says Scott Corbett, a family member and partner in Corbett Packaging. “We wanted the county to restore, enhance and expand the existing facilities, and we wanted the garden to continue to be a public treasure for years to come.”

This summer, design students from North Carolina State University will hold a charette, or intensive design session, to develop new ideas for the garden and propose plans to preserve its historical heritage. Those ideas will be incorporated into a long-range plan for the garden.

—Natalie Hampton

If you’re going: Airlie Gardens is located on Airlie Road in Wilmington, off Oleander Drive. It is open to the public Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 for New Hanover County residents (with identification) and $8 for non-residents.

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Tour focuses on stream restoration

Rock vanes, J-hooks and root wads: To many people these words may sound like MTV-era music groups. But to environmental professionals working to improve the state’s streams, they are valuable tools and are among the methods highlighted in a tour led by the North Carolina Stream Restoration Institute of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service this summer.

Tour participants gather along the banks of a restored stream. The 1999 Mountain Best Management Practice (BMP) Tour focused on multi-agency water quality projects in Surry, Watauga, Avery and Transylvania counties. Its purpose was to provide state agency professionals, scientists and engineers with a first-hand look at mountain BMPs. Participants visited projects involving wetlands, cattle management and aquaculture.

“The tour was an excellent educational opportunity for natural resource professionals to learn how local agencies and volunteers are working together to solve water quality problems,” says Greg Jennings, Extension's associate state program leader for agriculture and natural resources. “We wanted to show how innovative BMPs are designed, installed and evaluated.”

Stream restoration was a main thrust. The educational demand is high, and the science new, according to Will Harman, Extension associate for watershed management in the department of biological and agricultural engineering at North Carolina State University and organizer of the tour.

“Stream restoration is a new best management practice to North Carolina and most of the nation,” he says.

Traditional BMPs focus on minimizing water quality impacts. Stream restoration focuses on stabilizing the stream channel while blending the BMP into its natural setting. Not only is natural biological habitat enhanced, the overall aesthetics are improved.

“Our goal is to have someone come and fish from one of the structures we have put in and not even know that it was created to stabilize the stream,” Harman says.

He points to three main reasons for this new emphasis on stream restoration:

  • First, sediment is the biggest pollutant in North Carolina; a significant portion comes from eroding stream banks.
  • Second, the North Carolina Department of Transportation and other land-development organizations are now required to restore degraded streams whenever they impact a stream due to construction activity. “In other words, if a stream is piped for a road crossing, a degraded stream in the same watershed must be restored,” Harman says.
  • Finally, many landowners are losing their land to stream-bank erosion and would like to stabilize the stream but make it look natural. They want to improve fish habitat, as well. However, according to Harman, the technology to do these things is very young and quite different from traditional approaches, such as concrete and pipes.

Hence, root wads, rock vanes and J-hooks are among the solutions Harman prominently included on the tour. Each of these structures lessens stream-bank erosion, and two are good for habitat.

Root wads, which benefit habitat, include the roots of trees plus an additional 15 to 20 feet of trunk. They are placed at the lowest part of the stream bank to deflect water and absorb energy. Rock vanes are rock structures that move the swiftest water away from the bank toward the middle of the stream. J-hooks are similar to rock vanes but form a J shape and are more beneficial to fish habitat because they deepen an area on the stream bottom.

As the concept of stream restoration evolves, research will focus on which of the current structures is most effective.

Harman says this year’s focus on stream restoration provided a good opportunity to show different state and federal agencies how these structures work.

In August, the North Carolina Stream Restoration Institute held a stream restoration and protection conference in Asheville. Conference presenters explained current government programs and technical topics associated with designing, implementing and monitoring stream restoration and protection projects.

— Andy Fisher

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N.C. State, Duke scientists collaborate to find cure for degenerative eye disease

As the darkness gradually descends, it’s like the beginning of a long-playing nightmare.

First, maybe as you’re driving home late one evening, on-coming headlights blind you, forcing you to pull over to the curb. Then, as years go by, your peripheral vision might cloud; you develop tunnel vision, can’t see cars approaching on side streets.

And the worst is yet to come.

If you suffer from such symptoms — as do 100,000 people in the United States, 2 million worldwide — you might have retinitis pigmentosa and be facing total blindness. For those with RP, a genetically inherited, degenerative human eye disease, there has been no hope of successful treatment.

No hope, that is, until the advent of today’s genomic sciences and transgenic research models. Now three Triangle-area university scientists, including N.C. State University genetics engineer Dr. Bob Petters, are hot on the trail of a cure for a disease that has blinded millions.

Because RP treatments must be tested first on animal models before human clinical tests can be run — and last year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended that proposed RP treatments be tested in pigs — Petters has developed a genetically engineered pig model.

Bob PettersAn animal scientist and geneticist, Petters works with a multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional team.

He breeds pigs genetically altered for the RP genes; Dr. Fulton Wong, associate professor of ophthalmology, does the basic research and neurobiology at Duke University’s Eye Center; and Dr. Brooks McCuen, Duke Eye Center’s chief of vitreoretinal surgery, tests potential RP cures, using surgical procedures and injections to retard the progression of retinal degeneration in the transgenic pigs.

Wong, who isolated and developed porcine rhodopsin, a gene in which the RP mutation occurs, met Petters in 1991, shortly after the discovery of the first genetic mutation for RP. Wong already had compiled substantial data on RP, but needed an animal model to help his research.

Petters and his N.C. State team injected pig embryos with the DNA isolate Wong developed. By 1995, Petters had established the transgenic pig model, which Petters and Wong have made available to researchers worldwide.

The two also have established the Retinal Degeneration Research Center, which the Foundation Fighting Blindness recently designated a Center for Pre-Clinical Therapy Medical Evaluation, awarding it a five-year grant. They’re working to discover the mechanisms underlying various forms of RP, a complicated disease involving several genes and several hundred mutations.

Petters sees this research as part of an evolving, more complex role for agriculture.

“It’s hoped that the work will result in some kind of therapy for people with RP,” he says. “If so, it will be one of the few cases where a livestock animal has been used in the research that resulted in the cure for a previously incurable disease.”

— Art Latham

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Bees beset by various pests

Beginning in the mid-1980s, honey bees in North Carolina and throughout the Southeast have faced a holocaust, attacked by a series of pests against which the bees have few defenses.

First were two different types of mites, the tracheal mite and the Varroa mite. Both pests came from other parts of the world, and both decimated bee colonies. Indeed, Dr. John Ambrose, a bee expert in the department of entomology, estimates that compared to 15 years ago, there are now 90 percent fewer wild honey bees in North Carolina. Over the same period, the number of colonies kept by beekeepers in the state has dropped by a third, from approximately 180,000 to around 120,000.

And now, adding insult to injury, comes yet another pest. In November 1998, the small hive beetle was found for the first time in North Carolina. The beetles, which are native to southern Africa, where they are considered a minor pest, appear to have the potential to be a major pest here. Since June 1998, when the beetles were first found in Florida, they are thought to have been responsible for the destruction of 20,000 Florida hives.

Ambrose says the beetles, which look like black lady bugs, are attracted to bee colonies by smell. They lay their eggs in the hive, and when the eggs hatch, immature beetles overrun the hive, tunneling through the comb, eating honey and pollen. They also produce a black slime layer that appears to repel bees. The bees either die or abandon the hive.

Bees, of course, play a vital role in the production of many crops by pollinating plants. Ambrose says North Carolina growers of crops such as apples, cucumbers, watermelons and other types of melons, squash and blueberries used to rely largely on wild bees to pollinate their crops. Now, most growers are renting bees, although rental costs are typically at least twice what they were in the early 1980s. And if home gardeners find their thumbs aren’t as green as they used to be, it’s probably because there are fewer wild bees.

Ambrose adds that the bee decline could also affect wildlife. Many of the plants animals eat are pollinated by honey bees. It is estimated, for example, that 30 percent of a black bear’s diet is bee-pollinated plants.

Ambrose and others are working on several fronts both to protect honey bees and to find alternative pollinators.

Menthol crystals put in hives and allowed to vaporize have been found to be an effective method of controlling tracheal mites, and there are pesticides available that control Varroa mites. But using pesticide makes managing bee hives more complicated and expensive and raises the possibility honey could be contaminated.

Working with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Ambrose earlier this year began a bee-trapping program designed to identify wild bees that have developed resistance to Varroa mites.

Ambrose is also testing a new hive design that may help protect bees from Varroa mites. Researchers have noticed that the mites frequently fall off bees, then climb back on. They have designed a screen to be used in place of the solid panel that usually forms the floor of a hive. It is hoped that mites will fall through the screen to the ground and won’t be able to return to the bees.

Bumblebees and various solitary bees are better pollinators than honey bees, but these alternative pollinators have drawbacks. Ambrose says one bumblebee can do the job of six honey bees depending on the crop, but where it would cost $40 to rent the pollinating services of honey bees, it would cost $300 to $400 for bumblebees. And bumblebees don’t produce any honey to speak of. Solitary bees are difficult or impossible to keep and are often active only at certain times of year.

Ambrose is particularly concerned about the effect the small hive beetle may have on other pollinators such as bumblebees and solitary bees. His research has shown that the beetles can destroy bumblebee colonies. It is not clear, however, whether the beetles can find bumblebee colonies in the wild.

And it’s not yet clear exactly how much of a threat the beetles will be in North Carolina. The beetles pupate in the soil. Adult beetles emerge from the soil and begin looking for a bee colony in which to lay their eggs. Ambrose says there are indications the beetles may be able to survive only in sandy soils.

If that’s the case, their range in North Carolina would likely be limited. That would be the first good news for the state’s honey bees in some time.

—Dave Caldwell

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Yates Mill, Wake County’s oldest grist mill, will be
centerpiece for an environmental education park

Yates Mill In an unusual partnership that promises dividends for everyone involved, N.C. State University has joined with Wake County Parks and Recreation and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to develop a park on the site of Yates Mill, believed to be the county’s oldest grist mill.

The university owns the mill, which is being restored by Yates Mill Associates, a private group with a longtime interest in the historic structure. Once complete, the park will serve as an educational facility for the university, groups from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and Exploris Museum, and the public.

The new park will include a visitors’ center, complete with classrooms and laboratories, and a center to house the zoology department’s assortment of reptiles and snakes. Since plans for the park were announced more than a year ago, the project has continued to grow. Initial plans called for the county to lease from N.C. State University 212 acres around the mill for the park. Now the NCDA&CS has made available another 400 acres of forest land that can be used for nature trails.

The mill itself, which dates to 1756, is a centerpiece of the park plan.

Yates Mill is believed to be one of Wake County’s first commercial mills, and now it is the county’s last standing mill. During its 200-year operating life, the mill was used for grinding grain, sawing logs and carding wool. The mill sits adjacent to university field research facilities on Lake Wheeler Road south of Raleigh. The university purchased the land, formerly FinCrest Farms, in 1963.

But there would be no mill left to restore if not for the efforts of Yates Mill Associates, chaired by Dr. John Vandenbergh, professor in the department of zoology. Vandenbergh has taken zoology students to the site for years to explore the ecological relationships of the mill pond and surrounding area. He noticed how deteriorated the structure had become and joined with others to form Yates Mill Associates.

The group had made considerable progress toward restoration, but in 1996 ruthless Hurricane Fran dealt the mill a heavy blow, washing away the dam and the pond. The reconstructed shed collapsed, and the supports underneath the mill were further jeopardized.

Now, the dam has been restored, and the steel-and-concrete structure is faced with the stones from the original dam. Work is nearly complete on the exterior of the mill, and the pond will be dredged and filled soon.

Though progress has been made, development of the park remains at least a year away. Plans include educational opportunities for all ages, from school groups to college students to adults

Study topics will range from the history and technology of the mill to environmental studies of the area surrounding the park. Because of its proximity to research farms, the park plans to offer opportunities for the study of agroecology — the relationship of agriculture to the environment.

The recreated pond will provide a shallow area for wading where groups can study the pond’s aquatic life. Boardwalks will allow easy access to wetlands. And monitoring stations across the park will allow groups to observe weather and wildlife and to sample air and water. Several field classrooms will provide sites for outdoor studies.

Vandenbergh sees great potential for students >from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to learn at the site, once it is fully restored and the new facilities completed. Students in zoology, botany, plant pathology and wildlife will be able to study a variety of organisms from fungi to beavers.

“You’ll be able to take a class out there and take a walk on a boardwalk out over the pond to collect samples,” he said. “And you’ll have a classroom to study specimens.”

— Natalie Hampton

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Teaching pesticide safety to seasonal farm workers

The seasonal and migrant workers on whom much of North Carolina agriculture relies are working more safely as a result of a series of pesticide safety brochures produced in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The first brochures, describing safe pesticide use with tobacco, cucumbers, sweet potatoes and green peppers, were published in the summer of 1998. Brochures on apples and Christmas trees are due this year. Already, more than 41,000 brochures have been distributed.

The brochures, a cooperative effort of the College and the state departments of Labor and Agriculture and Consumer Services, are designed for field workers and describe in English and Spanish how to use pesticides safely. They include sections on pesticide poisoning symptoms, first aid tips, pesticides commonly used with the crop, and health and safety tips.

The publications have proved so popular the Mexican consulate has requested a supply be sent to Mexico to be used to educate farm workers before they come into the United States to work. And the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Labor are considering using them in their pesticide safety programs.

The brochures were developed by Dr. Greg Cope, assistant professor in the department of toxicology and department Extension leader; Julia Storm, Extension toxicology information specialist for the North Carolina Agromedicine Program; Rachel Avery, formerly an Extension toxicology research assistant; and Regina Luginbuhl, director of the Labor Department’s Agricultural Safety and Health Division. They were designed by Greg Miller and Grace Jenkins, graphic artists in the College’s department of communication services.

The project was funded jointly by the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Pesticide Environmental Trust Fund and the Agromedicine Program.

— Dave Caldwell

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Chancellor’s installation caps off eventful week

Amidst pomp, circumstance and a flurry of red-and-white banners, Marye Anne Fox was installed as the twelfth chancellor of N.C. State University on April 17. The event followed a week-long celebration campuswide.

April 17 brought visitors to campus for the installation and reception in Reynolds Coliseum, as well as a morning symposium on “The Future of U.S. Research-Intensive Universities.” Dr. Frank H.T. Rhodes, president emeritus and professor of geological sciences at Cornell University, was keynote speaker for the installation.

Chancellor Fox at her installation. In her installation speech, Fox pledged that she would honor the traditions of N.C. State, while forging ahead in the sciences and technology, never forgetting that the university must first be responsive to its students. She also announced the creation of a 20- to 30-member blue ribbon panel, called the Commission on the Future of N.C. State. The group will be co-chaired by retired University of North Carolina President William Friday, an N.C. State alumnus, and Norman Hackerman, former president of both Rice University and the University of Texas at Austin.

Dean James L. Oblinger of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences headed a 30-member campus committee that spent several months planning the installation events. Printed materials for the installation, from invitations to programs and parking passes, were designed by the College’s department of communication services.

— Natalie Hampton

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New Extension logo is flying high

North Carolina Cooperative Extension has a new look. A redesigned logotype, which combines the identities of the organization’s two cooperating universities, was introduced at the state Extension Annual Conference.

The logo’s new features highlight and exemplify the partnering spirit of Cooperative Extension: A dominant NC is followed by the words State University, A&T State University, and Cooperative Extension. Two bars under the NC are colored red for N.C. State and blue for N.C. A&T. The Extension slogan, Helping People Put Knowledge to Work, then appears.

Soon the new image will begin appearing on Extension name badges, county signs and event signs, as well as banners inside every county center. Already the logo has appeared on a number of publications and Web sites, with more to come.

The Cooperative Extension Service even ordered a “jump banner” that has been displayed by parachutists jumping from a plane. So keep an eye to the sky, because the new Extension logo could be dropping in on your next function.

— Natalie Hampton

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Land-based technology
and watershed protection
demonstrated at field lab

Joni Tanner calls it her Tom Sawyer fence-painting story: Last spring, representatives of several companies donated equipment and installed an operating septic system at N.C. State University’s new National Training Center for Land-Based Technology and Watershed Protection.

And they paid to do it.

“Septic system installers and health department inspectors needed to know how to install pressure-dosed sand filters, a new type of septic system in North Carolina, so they paid for training to help us install one,” explains Tanner, the center’s training coordinator. A planned alternative paving installation may follow the same model.

That learn-by-doing approach is the training center’s hallmark — its reason for being, in fact.

Training session participants determine septic system loading rates.As North Carolina’s population has grown, so have wastewater and other wastes. Meanwhile, new technologies have emerged to help deal with these wastes in ways that protect the environment. However, until the center was developed, there was no focal point for getting information about these technologies to the developers, health department officials, private enterprises, extension agents, and others who need to know about them.

The center provides that — and more.

“Our goal is to address the environmental issues that citizens in rural and urban lands need addressed,” says Dr. Mike Hoover, the center’s director and professor in the department of soil science. “The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service started with a small training center in Chatham County, and the reaction was so positive that other universities followed our lead and developed similar sites. We knew we needed to get closer to campus to more closely integrate with student education and research efforts.”

In the fall of 1997, Hoover and others at the university began taking steps to create the nation’s — indeed, the world’s — premier demonstration and training facility for advanced and conventional land-based wastewater technologies and related environmental management technologies.

Today, the center covers 40 acres at the Lake Wheeler Road Field Laboratory, four miles south of the N.C. State campus. It brings together the expertise of some 20 faculty members in the College along with their colleagues in government and private industry.

Dr. Greg Jennings, a Cooperative Extension administrator, said the center’s training efforts are being developed in eight areas: on-site system demonstration, wastewater research, land application training and demonstration, water-quality monitoring and watershed protection, compost demonstration, community water and wastewater demonstration, agronomic training, and erosion and sediment control.

“When it comes to these important issues, nothing in the real world is as simple as what’s in a textbook,” Hoover said. “Therefore, we are offering training that is hands-on and includes real-world problems and solutions — and it has to cut across traditional public and private sector barriers to be team-oriented.”

Although the center is a work-in-progress, hundreds of people in government and private industry have already benefited from its training and demonstration programs. Between September 1998 and November 1999, the College will have held 36 events at the site.

In early June, Hoover and Dr. Joe Kleiss, also a professor in the soil science department, led a class called “Soils 200: Matching the System to the Soil — Integrating Soil Morphology With Land-Use Needs.” It is part of a Soils and On-Site Wastewater Training Academy series.

Armed with a day’s instruction, the participating environmental health specialists, soil scientists, geologists and professional engineers wrapped up the session in the trenches – literally — classifying the soil type on the center’s site and determining appropriate septic system loading rates.

Private companies have been strong advocates for the center, donating equipment, manpower and scholarship funds for county inspectors who might not otherwise be able to attend.

“Inspectors and consulting soil scientists often are at odds when evaluating a lot’s suitability for a septic system, but here they can come together to look at the issues from a common, solutions-oriented perspective,” Hoover said. “The most important thing this place really does is bring these professionals to one place so they can talk together — and can learn together.”

—Dee Shore

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Career Expo coming Oct. 28

Interested in a career change? Want to know what jobs in agriculture and the life sciences are hot? Maybe you just want to keep your options open for a future change. Stop by the Talley Student Center Ballroom between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to network with leading employers during the 1999 Career Expo. Bring your resumes. Last year more than 100 recruiters attended, including Glaxo Wellcome, Dupont, Nabisco, Novartis, NIEHS and USDA. Call 515-3249 for more information.

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