Access for all, building student stewards for Masonboro Island  

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“The only lands being saved are the ones with public support,” said Richard Johnson, Masonboro.org founder and president.

Organized in 2009 after state officials threatened to close Masonboro Island to the public, Masonboro.org is a volunteer organization that seeks to protect the island’s public access through education and cleanups.

“Masonboro Island is almost a sacred place,” Johnson said.

At 5,653 acres, the island is home to many threatened species like the loggerhead sea turtle and the seabeach amaranth plant.

Thursday, June 5, the group held its fourth annual Benefit and Auction at the Bradley Creek Marina.

“We go to Masonboro once or twice a week,” volunteer Alex Milkes said. “Whatever we could do to support the cause.”

During the event, volunteers and event goers ate, danced and mingled. Husband and wife Rich and Jennifer Mclean volunteered to help cater the event by preparing 150 hotdogs.

“[At our house] we grill them, pack them and bring them back here,” Jennifer said. “We always do it for a good cause. It gets everyone together.”

Auction items included several beach baskets and a longboard. Donation tables were also placed at the entrance. Attendees who donated received a
Masonboro.org T-shirt. The donations will go toward sponsoring a local student to visit to the island.

“Last year, we sent more than 200 people to Masonboro Island,” Johnson said. “Our mission is public access. You need public support so what better way than introducing the next generation to the island. Our intention is to send every student there.”

In 2013, Cissie Brooks, marine science coordinator for Wrightsville Beach School, created the Masonboro Island Explorer program. The program now sends New Hanover County fifth-grade students on educational field trips to the island.

“We really try to work with county schools,” Haywood Newkirk, Masonboro Island Explorer program chairman, said. “It really means a lot for me to see these kids get the opportunity to explore, miles from their homes.”

The program costs about $25 per student. The cost covers transportation fees, curriculum program fees from the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and T-shirts.

The auction did not have a monetary goal, and Johnson said the event was about raising public awareness.

“I suspect we will raise plenty [of money],” Johnson said. “We want people to know how special the island is.”

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