Roberson says nature is ‘simply good medicine’ Shares love of wildlife with private refuge

Published 8:55 pm Monday, August 27, 2007

By By DAN PARSONS, Staff Writer
For Gail Roberson, nature is a healing place. Since she was young, it has been her dream to have a refuge wherein she could not only experience but also share the wonders of the natural world. That dream came true for Roberson when she opened Morningstar Nature refuge 15 years ago.
The 20-acre refuge in the Farm Life community in Martin County is a one-woman operation that rivals the most highly funded state parks. With a full-time staff of only Roberson, the cozy trails covering eight acres of the refuge were opened with a bush axe, a machete and a chainsaw. She credits the same woods she cut to make the trails with giving her the strength to wield the axe.
The realization of that wish was a long time coming, Roberson said. Growing up in eastern North Carolina, she began saving money to start a refuge at age 14. For most of her life, her dream opening the refuge was kept on the back burner while she went to school and raised money.
And the refuge has grown. It has become a stop on the North Carolina Birding Trail and has been given designation as a North Carolina Environmental Education Center.
Once established, Roberson said the success of her refuge comes from the privacy that the modest operation provides compared to larger parks and refuges. Open daily from 2 p.m. by invitation only, she personally oversees each guest’s experience.
Roberson said her ability to teach nature through her refuge has been the most rewarding aspect of the undertaking. She has “trained” 44 children as volunteers on the refuge, teaching them what she views as antiquated social sensibilities through the appreciation of the natural world.
Of the 44 children that comprised her original volunteer work force, Roberson smiles as she recounts the professions many of them have entered, including three wildlife biologists, two environmental attorneys and one who sails with Greenpeace. With their help, Roberson established Morningstar as much more than a collection of hiking trails.
The refuge holds federal permits for the possession of endangered species mounts, like the great horned owl Roberson has on display in the onsite wildlife museum. There also is a library wherein Roberson and her students have cataloged photographs and descriptions of almost every species of plant and animal that inhabits the refuge. She also opens her personal garden to visitors.
For more information on Morningstar Nature Refuge and Gail Roberson see Inner Banks Out of Doors in Wednesday’s edition of the Daily News or visit