Leaders meet for Great Dismal Swamp Biannual Meeting

Published 6:25 pm Thursday, December 28, 2023

The Great Dismal Swamp Stakeholder Collaborative and Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge brought together leaders and supporters for the GDSSC Biannual Meeting held on Thursday, Dec. 7, at the Suffolk Cultural Arts Center. Aiming to strengthen relationships between “cultural, tribal, environmental, and governmental organizations,” the meeting was held to advance inclusive activities beneficial for stakeholders while respecting the Swamp as its own stakeholder. 

Leadership included Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge Manager Chris Lowie, Chief Emeritus Sam Bass, Elder Ben Keeling, Suffolk Mayor Michael D. Duman, Council Member John Rector, Portsmouth Mayor Shannon E. Glover and Mubita, LLC President Eric A. Sheppard, who is also a direct descendant of African American Author and former slave Moses Grandy. Keeling positively expressed seeing many leaders and guests come together regarding the Swamp.

“It’s a lovely and outstanding diverse group of individuals from all walks of life and focused on interest in the Great Dismal Swamp. So, that’s why we’re gathered here together,” Keeling said.

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Providing a speech, Sheppard expressed the importance of the Great Dismal Swamp’s history, focusing on African American history. He reflected on tracing his history from a genealogy research 25 years ago and coming upon the slave narrative of his ancestor, Moses Grandy.

“The slave narrative takes you right to the Great Dismal Swamp, and we’re talking about the slave labor camps that hand dug that canal that went through the swamp, and I will say when I first got down here, I said ‘Wait a minute, I’m seeing million dollar yachts going down here and the people had no clue of how that canal got there,” Sheppard said. “So we worked with the North Carolina State Park site and got a plaque dedicated to our ancestors that hang dug that canal.’”

The meeting held discussions on the key priorities for 2024, including the GDSSC’s support of the Great Dismal Swamp National Heritage Area Feasibility Study, the Cultural Mapping Project aiming to continue promoting the GDSSC website’s StoryMap and the continuing Strategic Tourism Partnership, an effort to preserve the Swamp’s history as a sanctuary and place of refuge for wildlife and threatened species and historically for people fleeing enslavement and violence. Also discussed was the upcoming celebration of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge’s 50th Anniversary in 2024. Keeling talked about the monumental anniversary.

“It’s going to be all next year, spread out over the year, but the collaborative is in full support of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Refuge. So, you’re going to hear more about that,” Keeling said.