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Belville Riverwalk; The Dragonfly Project

By Jan Morgan-Swegle

Whether it’s the ocean, Cape Fear River, or various inlets in the area, there is always a calming peace when it comes to being near water. Watching pelicans swoop down and splash into the ocean and come up with a fish is amazing, and wondering what lurks beneath the water’s surface is a mystery worth exploring.

This area, with wetland and wildlife, offers a view into nature that many of us transplants never saw “up north.” While we had birds, squirrels and crawly things, we rarely saw them up close. We do now, and the Town of Belville is creating a sanctuary of sorts to make it even easier.

The town is developing an area that is eco-friendly, embraces the beauty of nature that this area has to offer, and celebrates one of the area’s loveliest residents. The Town of Belville is creating a dragonfly sanctuary pond in Riverwalk Park, calling the endeavor “The Dragonfly Project.” Funds for the project were, in part, donated by local businesses and residents of Belville. There were fundraisers and a raffle for a painting, called “Resting on the Riverwalk,” by local artist, Brooke Benton. The project is so well supported that on November 14, 2022, Belville town Commissioners passed a resolution designating the Dragonfly as the official town insect of Belville.

Why celebrate dragonflies? Although they are quick to fly from one source of vegetation to another, they are carnivorous insects that can eat up to 100 mosquitos a day. And, while they are in their nymph stage — or their growing stage — they eat mosquito larvae, further reducing the mosquito population. Being right on the Brunswick River, Riverwalk Park on a warm, summer evening certainly has its share of mosquitos!

Aside from being the only project of this kind currently in North Carolina, this is also an educational project that would make an excellent end of school year trip for our elementary and middle school science classes. What better way to protect our environment than having our children be able to see it up close and be a part of it?

According to information provided by the Town of Belville’s Dragonfly Project overview and Brenda Hewlett, Parks and Recreation Board Member, there are three stages to the development of a dragonfly. First comes the egg, which will be found in or near water. The next stage is the larva or nymph, where they will spend the majority of their time underwater. This is the longest stage in the evolution of dragonflies as they can be in this phase for as long as four years. The nymph doesn’t look like a dragonfly. Dragonflies have a long, slim abdomen, two pairs of wings and three pairs of legs. They are colorful and have very large eyes. Nymphs are short, “stout” and have pointed rear appendages.

Dragonflies have been called the exterminator of the insect world. They can see objects up to 30 feet away and can detect movement up to 60 feet away. Approximately 15 percent of their own body weight is made up of the insects they eat every day such as termites, deerflies, blackflies, horseflies and mosquitos.

Construction of the pond in Riverwalk Park is being managed by Jim Bucher, Parks and Recreation Director. According to Jim, “you have to ensure that certain elements are present to sustain the pond and Dragonfly population. The pond needs at least six hours of midday sun, every day, and should be among trees to protect it from the wind. The pond itself should be two feet deep and you need plants in and around the water to add oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. The water needs to be still and shallow at one end.”

The pond is located on a trail near the parking lot that leads to the open-air educational facility constructed with funds provided by Duke Energy Education Pavilion.

In this early stage of the pond’s construction, Jim has placed tall, grass-like plants in the water and then planted elevated flowering plants around the perimeter so the dragonflies can perch and look for food.

Jim hopes to have dragonfly nymphs for the pond in April. He is working with Carolina Biological Supply in Burlington, North Carolina, which keeps them in stock. He stressed, “this project has no tax impact to the residents of Belville. The money we have to buy the nymphs and other materials came from fundraisers and donations.”

The project will take approximately two years to be totally finished and have a good stock of dragonflies to watch. According to Jim, in the future, he wants to build “a flat area near the pond with benches, open fencing around the pond and possibly adding some small trees to protect the area from frost.”

The Dragonfly Pond will make an excellent addition to the Riverwalk area. The town’s 2030 expansion plan for the park includes, among other things, a dedicated food truck parking area, an amphitheater, river access and boat ramps, a marina, and an observation deck.

Belville is a town actively using the natural resources it has to benefit the residents, wildlife and now dragonflies. Go to the town’s website, and watch for information on the grand opening of the pond. Dragonflies are beautiful and have colorful wings. Think of them as the peacock of the insect world! Buy a Dragonfly T-shirt or a dragonfly ring and support the businesses that donated funds for this project. And get out there and enjoy the park!


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