Tall Glass of Water Project / Bertie County, North Carolina

NC Project Shows Opportunity in Resilience

MERRY HILL — At the confluence of the Albemarle Sound and the Chowan River, Bertie County residents celebrated in June 2019 the grand opening of their first public beach.

Amid the joyous splashing and squeals of laughter, Ron Wesson spied a young girl trying to coax her little brother into the water. The boy would not budge, so the older man gently offered to help.

“We kind of sat there, with our toes in the water,” Wesson recounted in a recent interview. “He held my hand, and I walked out there with him. We took it real slow.”

Within a short time, the little guy found his nerve and was soon playing carefree in the water with the other kids.

Bertie Beach is the community’s first cool gulp of the “Tall Glass of Water,” the working name for the county’s outdoor recreational project.

“It’s weird, though, because I can kind of relate,” Wesson said, referring to the boy’s hesitation and that he and the boy are both Black.

In 2019, Bertie County was ranked by Wall St. 24/7 analysis as the poorest county in North Carolina. Of its population of 19,000 people, about 68% are Black. Wesson said that, historically, the county has the highest percentage of Blacks in the state.

But the experience that day transcended race, and its implications reverberated beyond Bertie County. The celebration was part of a strategic regional approach to community resilience: Bring the environment to the people and stimulate economic growth through sustainable ecotourism.

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