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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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Meet Brayton Willis, Advocate Extraordinaire

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In February 2021, Cape Fear Voices began publishing a series of articles written by Leland resident Brayton Willis about the making of the North Carolina Gullah Geechee Greenway/Blueway Heritage Trail Project. The planned trail will stretch approximately 30 miles from Navassa to Southport along the west side of the Cape Fear River. The route will be an actual effort to recognize and celebrate the 500-mile, 12,818 square mile Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a Congressionally recognized National Historic Area established in 2006 that passes through Brunswick County. 

The pedestrian and bicycle trail will provide people-friendly linkages to historical sites such as Reaves Chapel, Brunswick Town, and historic Southport along the route. As northern Brunswick County grows exponentially, the project is critical to Brunswick County residents’ safety, health, and well-being. As such, Cape Fear Voices will continue to publish stories related to the project, including providing progress reports. 

In this issue, we highlight Brayton’s efforts as the Chairman of this trail project as well as the NAACP’s Brunswick County Branch Environmental and Climate Justice Committee. He has been and continues to be a strong advocate and spokesperson for the Greenway/Blueway Heritage Trail project and other crucial environmental justice and climate initiatives.

Growing up in New England, he graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in civil/environmental engineering. He has lived and worked in all four corners of the United States. Brayton is a Marine Corps veteran and a life member of the NAACP. His long involvement with public environmental issues began as a wastewater design/construction engineer with private engineering firms. Later, he served as a Public Health Engineer for Maricopa County, Arizona, followed by a position as Senior Project Manager/Strategic Planner for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, where he collaborated with local and state agencies, elected officials, the Governor’s Office, multiple federal agencies, the Boise State University Environmental Finance Center, and tribal and non-governmental organizations. The goal was to find ways to leverage funding opportunities and technical resources to improve the quality of life for Idaho citizens and their environment. 

To say that Brayton enjoys the out-of-doors is an understatement. Earlier in his life, he was a licensed pilot, expert certified diver, a rock and mountain climber, a mountain rescue team member, and a climbing instructor and guide. On younger legs, he ran several marathons out West and just missed qualifying for the Boston marathon. Along with his oldest daughter Kim, he spent many weekends participating in numerous whitewater and flatwater canoe races. Brayton has backpacked over 500 miles in the Grand Canyon, and to this day, he and his wife Debbie enjoy camping, hiking, and bicycling. They both have traveled to and visited all 50 States. 

Brayton has been a volunteer nearly all his life starting by helping his father on the early version of “Meals on Wheels,” distributing meals to the elderly shut-ins who lived on his paper route. More recently, Debbie and Brayton trained their dog “Fenway” as a therapy dog and who now volunteers with them at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Brayton and Debbie share three children and two incredibly intelligent grandchildren. 

Since moving to Leland in 2011, he has served as a member of the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization Citizens Advisory Committee for the 2045 Regional Transportation Plan update, the Town of Leland Transportation oversight committee, and the Town of Holden Beach Planning and Zoning Board. 

On June 10, 2021, Brayton presented a project overview (photo left) to the seniors at the Brunswick Center in Leland. Attendees heard Willis explain the project’s purposes of preserving, protecting, and celebrating the Gullah Geechee Heritage in Brunswick County. He also pointed out that greenways and blueways often follow natural land or water features and link nature reserves, neighborhoods, parks, cultural features, and historic sites with each other and with populated areas, all while providing safe and enjoyable places for people of all ages to experience the outdoors.

Recently, Brayton also successfully gained a partnership commitment from the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Group for the North Carolina Gullah Geechee Greenway/Blueway Heritage Trail project. We, the Editors of Cape Fear Voices and The Teen Scene, are excited to be at the forefront of such an ambitious and noteworthy project. We look forward to continuing to educate our readers and county residents on the project.

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