As much as a natural disaster can physically tear a community apart, Mother Nature cannot strip away the resilience, perseverance, and hope that surrounds a community following her devastating wrath.
As a photographer for FEMA, I have had the unique opportunity to document her fury firsthand on many occasions over the span of twenty-one years as a disaster reservist.
On a recent visit to Kinston, North Carolina, while documenting Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts, I stumbled upon the Neuseway Nature Center. I was reminded of the scope of people, places, and surprisingly, the small creatures, that are impacted by natural disasters. With over 200 volunteers that have helped with cleanup efforts, I saw how people have pulled together to help restore a local treasure.
According to the Director of Parks and Recreation of Kinston and Lenoir County, Bill Ellis, the nature park is funded by local, county, and charitable contributions and admission is free. Ellis mentioned that past hurricanes did not hesitate to pass through the buildings and steps were taken to prepare for what all imagined to be another, inevitable flood. Unfortunately, the measures were not enough to avoid the destruction that Hurricane Matthew would unfurl.
Neuseway Nature Park is a labor of love … you see it the moment you watch naturalist Bobby Cox tend to a fennec fox that is suffering from early stages of diabetes, or as he gently tends to two chinchillas, or teases a large sulcate tortoise with a fresh apple.
There is an owl that has a broken wing, making him unable to be in the wild. The owl would have been euthanized had it not been for the park staff opening their arms and providing him with both food and shelter. There are snakes, including a timber rattlesnake and a cottonmouth, prairie dogs, a skunk , a variety of lizards, including a bearded dragon lizard and a frilled-neck lizard…the list goes on. Most importantly, they are all part of the exhibits at the park that is visited by over 75,000 visitors per year. At its height on a sunny summer day, the park can have over 500 people pass through.
The animals impacted by the flooding are currently being housed at the Parks and Recreation maintenance building and will most likely remain in their temporary housing until the first of the year, when the building repairs are complete.
Director Ellis summed up the nature park in Kinston perfectly, “For a small country town like this, it ain’t bad!” From the visible enthusiasm of the volunteers, this sentiment is obviously shared, and for a very good reason!
For more information on the Nature Center Park visit: http://www.neusewaypark.com.