Through local initiatives and conservation efforts, the best of the Carolina coast is becoming even better as it works toward a more sustainable future. We welcome visitors to witness firsthand how Wilmington is making a difference and doing its share to protect the planet.
Protecting Our Parks and Gardens
Wilmington’s parks and gardens honor the Leave No Trace principles of environmental stewardship by caring for nature and encouraging minimal-impact practices. Airlie Gardens, a certified NC Green Travel member, boast 67 acres of formal gardens, wildlife, lakes and more for visitors to explore. The site is currently restoring and replacing its tree canopy. Located within the Cape Fear River Basin and at the bottom of the Bradley Creek watershed, the grounds have a Stormwater Master Plan in place to effectively manage runoff and ensure the health of Airlie Lake.
Airlie Gardens’ Pollinator Garden and Butterfly House support pollinator species to help the gardens grow. Visitors can participate in Butterfly Releases to see the action happen live and learn about the beautiful creatures’ lifecycles.
Another NC Green Travel participant, New Hanover County Arboretum has earned national recognition and the 2023 Sustainability Award from the American Public Gardens Association for implementing and promoting sustainable practices, as well as showcasing innovation in the field. To achieve a more sustainable future, the Arboretum has undertaken efforts to divert all organic waste through composting facilities, decrease noise emissions through battery-powered equipment and innovate its stormwater management techniques. In the fall, the Arboretum hosts a pumpkin collection, recycling the waste for compost and animal feed throughout the county.
Greenfield Park, secluded amidst the hustle and bustle of downtown Wilmington, features 250 acres of green space and makes for the perfect spot to enjoy all nature has to offer. The park is filled with biking and walking trails to enjoy, along with a guided tour from Cape Fear River Watch. The Greenfield Lake Walking Eco-Tour is a family-friendly adventure that showcases the flora, fauna and unique ecosystems of Greenfield Lake and the park – and highlights ways to preserve nature along the way.
Located on the northern end of the Riverwalk in historic downtown, Riverfront Park has been awarded WEDG Verification from The Waterfront Alliance. This recognition is considered the gold standard of waterfront resilience and risk reduction, and Riverfront Park is the first project outside of New York City to receive the distinction.
Wilmington became the 10th certified Bee City in the nation in 2015 for its commitment to creating sustainable habitats for pollinators, supporting pollinator gardens and helping raise awareness of their importance. The town has also received recognition as a Tree City since 2002 for creating a viable tree management program that meets the standards of the Arbor Day Foundation and the National Association of State Foresters. These standards include public tree care ordinance forms, a community forestry program and an annual Arbor Day observance. Urban trees provide various benefits, from moderating extreme temperatures and filtering pollutants to reducing wind speed and water erosion, in addition to enhancing community well-being.
Native only to a 60-mile radius around Wilmington, Venus flytraps thrive in the area’s unique environmental conditions. Elected officials have passed successful legislation to protect and preserve the species by banning flytrap poaching. Visitors can see the carnivorous plants in their natural habitat at the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden’s Piney Ridge Nature Preserve and in nearby Carolina Beach State Park.
Cape Fear River Watch is a local nonprofit organization focused on improving and protecting the Lower Cape Fear River Basin’s water quality through advocacy, action and education. Over the past few years, the organization has acted across the region, from nutrient loading in Greenfield Lake to reducing microplastics in waterways and adding trash-capturing devices to storm drains. Attend an upcoming monthly Second Saturday Cleanup to join a volunteer force that collected more than 15,000 pounds of litter last year! Check the organization’s events calendar for additional opportunities like paddle excursions, which occur on the third Saturday of each month.
Sustainable Bites and Brews
Recognized as America’s Favorite Solar-Powered Microbrewery in 2019, Mad Mole Brewing produces a variety of stouts, ales and IPAs and operates on a seven-barrel electric system powered by solar energy. Pick up your favorite batch for an adventure with BrewBoat and cruise around the Cape Fear River on a 100% green paddleboat. Groups of up to 15 people can channel their pedal power or relax and let the solar-powered electric motor do the work.
Plastic Ocean Project, a nearby nonprofit, has teamed up with Ocean Friendly Establishments to encourage local businesses to help improve the quality of our oceans through waste reduction. Nearly 75 businesses in Wilmington and its nearby island beaches have joined the cause and become certified Ocean Friendly Establishments committed to skipping single-use plastic products like straws.
Many of Wilmington’s restaurants serve farm-to-table fare prepared with fresh and sustainable ingredients. The award-winning Chef Keith Rhodes serves up seasonal dishes at Catch that highlight consciously sourced ingredients from local growers and fisheries that support sustainable practices. Chef Dean Neff helps customers understand the complexities of sustainable seafood and fishing through the menu at Seabird.
Several of Wilmington’s restaurants are featured on the NC Oyster Trail and serve fresh, locally harvested oysters. Three10, a family-run business, offers fresh, modern seafood dishes that focus on seasonal, local and sustainable ingredients in a repurposed 1920s bungalow.
Discover fine vegan dining at The Green House, which specializes in farm-to-table meals and grows its own organic, non-GMO herbs and greens through sustainable farming practices. SeaLevel City Vegan Diner composts all its food scraps and paper waste and recycles items with the county and university.
With innovative practices, local initiatives and collective efforts, Wilmington is paving a path toward a greener future. Discover numerous environmentally conscious efforts and ways to get involved as a visitor.