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Parking Lots for Environmental Change 

Sydney Sirkin (2020)

Located on the banks of the Roanoke River, Williamston, North Carolina is a certified Audubon Sustainable Community and strives to provide its residents with outdoor recreation and conservation techniques. The town is prone to hurricanes and flooding due to its proximity to water and therefore is conscious of how government decisions will affect the environmental health of Williamston. Among kayaking, hiking, camping, biking, and trails along the Roanoke River Wildlife Refuge, Williamston proudly maintains permeable pavement parking lots by the town hall.


The difference between permeable and impermeable pavement is monumental. That smooth, shiny, rock-hard pavement we all know and love? That’s impermeable, meaning water is unable to percolate through, and it must run off into the storm drains. The increase in impermeable pavements has put pressure on the rainwater system to hold the majority of rainfall, and therefore the underground aquifers, or natural water tanks, take longer to replenish. This increased flow of water to the storm drains can pick up chemicals and pollutants, increase sediment deposits and cause property damage. 


Permeable pavement does exactly the opposite. It is typically made of loose gravel, pervious asphalt, and pervious concrete. These types of surfaces allow rainwater to soak down to the ground below and eliminate runoff. It also recharges groundwater, can reduce the surface temperature of the ground, and is a much better financial choice. Permeable pavement decreases the need for gutters and retention basins, has lower installation costs, and has an equal life expectancy to the impermeable pavement with less financial upkeep. 


In 2009, the town of Williamston decided to install permeable pavement in the town hall parking lot, and while they are not planning to install any other eco-friendly lots, the effort is appreciated. 


The installation was in response to the severe and increased flooding in Eastern North Carolina. Williamston Planning and Downtown Marketing Coordinator Zach Dickerson says “The permeable pavement is intended as a tool to mitigate runoff on Town Hall property. While we have not measured changes in runoff specifically, this is generally the number one reason for the installation. It also serves in our efforts to be forward thinking in a part of the state prone to hurricanes and flooding.” 


Their contributions to mitigating climate change contribute to their status as an Audubon Certified Sustainable Community, and the unique look of the pavement garners the attention of their residents. Dickerson says, “While it’s not a talking point for people, it does stand out in comparison to other lots. The color is lighter gray and the texture is different, and I’ve noticed a lot of people doing double takes. I like to use it as an example to show what other people can do regarding taking steps towards being more environmentally friendly. It helps for the town to take the lead and to plan ahead.” 


The permeable pavement provides impromptu educational experiences for kids and adults alike who stumble across it. This allows government officials to provide information on the town’s efforts to mitigate climate change that everyone will benefit from. 


It is the hope of Williamston officials and environmentalists everywhere that more and more communities will implement changes such as permeable pavement to their towns to provide a more sustainable and secure future.

Jenkins Antiques

Noah Manneville (2013)

Along the route to Williamston, North Carolina by way of Highway 64, a house stands quietly alongside the narrow two-lane road. A large display reads, ‘Jenkins Antiques’ in cursive, and from one look at the building one is struck with an irrepressible idea that more than just history is housed inside.

The owners, Ronnie, and Becky Jenkins, have owned the building for 28 years, having bought the house in 1985 and remodeled it from its previous usage as a bar and restaurant. Though they’ve owned it longer than I have been alive, the peg-built antebellum farmhouse has survived for many more generations than nearly any building in the area. It was erected in 1857 and survived through the American Civil War. Perhaps most astounding — and a testament to the love the Jenkins have for the house — the building remains in its original condition today, aside from minor renovations made to the interior by the Jenkins over the years. With over 10,000 square feet of space, the antique shop houses thousands of items spanning the past two centuries, and some items date back to ancient times. In a move of brilliance, the Jenkins decided to house goods on consignment; people bring in antiques they want to sell, and for a fee, the Jenkins exhibit the goods.  When they sell, Jenkins Antiques receives a percentage of the profit. Often the antiques come in from professional appraisers, which ensures that the antique shop stays full of unique and interesting items that come from around the area.

Digging through the displays, I found an American Army infantry helmet used during the Vietnam War, a Ku Klux Klan token from the early 20th century used to signify membership, a bottle of bourbon in the shape of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s head, and a string of Chinese coins and small tools that were remarkably dated to the 1st century CE. Unlike some antique stores, the objects on display were not tossed about in an unorganized fashion. Instead, they were arranged in precise aisles and designated areas that reminded me of a scene in an interior decorating magazine. Coca-Cola bottles and mason jars were set against a backdrop of lace with a soft light casting shadows on the objects, and for a moment it seemed I was in a coastal cottage, not wandering about an old antique shop. The neatness of the place was certainly a result of loving care, and, after nearly three decades, the expertise of the owners.

When I first opened the door to Jenkins Antiques, Becky Jenkins was measuring two boat oars that a man had brought in that morning. Ronnie, her husband, was reclining listening to headphones.   Becky’s initial assumption was that the oars, which were 16 feet long well-worn, and splitting, had possibly been used on slave ships that brought Africans to North Carolina to work in cotton and tobacco fields. Ronnie removed his headphones to hear the hypothesis, and nodding his head in approval, returned to his music. Ronnie was listening to Dixie 105.7, a local country music station. He used to listen to classic rock from the ‘60s but needed a change. Becky doesn’t like country, so instead of playing the music on the speakers in the store, Ronnie is forced to keep the music to himself).

It seems that without trying, the Jenkins have become antique experts by nature. After Ronnie retired, the Jenkins made the antique shop a full-time gig. Becky created a website for the store, which is constantly updated whenever new items are sold or brought in. Samurai swords are on display that their son, now married, contributed when he decided he no longer had the space or desire to keep them. There is furniture all around the house labeled and tagged with prices, ready to be sold at a moment’s notice. A box of objects brought in from a friend to be put on consignment sits on prominent display near the front door — the friend is an appraiser using some of his most sensational antiques to help pay for cancer treatment.

It would seem that after two centuries of history, the house itself has adopted a personality of its own. When I ascended the stairs to the empty second floor, the house seemed to greet me, creaking as if in memory of every step that came before mine. Perhaps the antiquity of the house itself has rubbed off on the Jenkins’, or perhaps the love for the job has brought the old house back to life. It seems that there is a symbiosis between Becky, Ronnie, and the old farmhouse that can only come from prolonged contact and loving care. It is not something that can be understated, or replicated. It is a true display of what a home can be, and what a homeowner can aspire to become.

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