by Bill Krueger
Brittany Iery grew up in Rocky Mount, but it was not unusual for her family to make the 60-mile trip to Raleigh to visit the mall or for one of her travel soccer games. So she was familiar with the city when a new job brought her to Raleigh in 2010. Or at least she thought she was. “My first reaction was excitement about how much it had changed,” says Iery (pronounced eye-ree), a public alert organizer for the North Carolina Conservation Network. “There is so much to do here. It’s just such a great community.”
Iery’s office is in downtown Raleigh, not far from Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, so she quickly became familiar with the local restaurant scene. She was enjoying dinner at Remedy Diner one night when she and a friend, Susannah Brinkley, hit on a way that they could share their love for Raleigh with a larger audience. Iery, 29, had heard of a popular online site called NYCbaton that offered lovers of New York a way to share Instagram photos of their favorite corners of the city. Why not, they thought, do the same thing for Raleigh?
And so, after getting the blessing of the folks behind the New York site, Iery and Brinkley created RDU Baton in November 2012. Their hope was that it would encourage the people who live in Raleigh – and Durham, Chapel Hill, and other parts of the Triangle – to share images of the places that they thought made the area special. “It’s a neat way to discover new parts of where you live,” says Brinkley, a freelance graphic designer who has since moved to Charlotte. “I had lived in Raleigh for six years and had my own little corner. It’s really nice to be opened up to other people’s little corner.”
The idea behind the project is that people take turns carrying the virtual “baton,” spending a day taking Instagram photos of their life in Raleigh or other parts of the Triangle and sharing a half-dozen or so with the people who follow the project online. Iery and Brinkley turned to their friends to get RDU Baton off the ground but quickly found that strangers were signing up for their turn with the Baton. “It has been a big word-of-mouth thing,” says Iery. “It was really cool to see it happen, with very little effort on our part.”
Within a year, RDU Baton had more than 2,000 followers online (they now number more than 3,000) and a list of more than 40 people waiting for their turn. Iery and Brinkley manage the project in their spare time, spending two to three hours a week sending passwords to upcoming baton holders and maintaining the site. No photos are posted on weekends, leaving Iery and Brinkley time to have their own fun on Saturdays and Sundays. They have no interest in trying to make money off of it. “This is just something we do because we’re passionate about it,” Iery says. “It’s great to see that other people love it as much as we do.”
There are a few rules for baton holders. They are asked to refrain from selfies and focus instead on spots they enjoy in the Triangle. They are asked to post only photos they take on their day with the baton and to write captions helping others understand what is special about the spot in the photo. The result is a kaleidoscope of images from across the Triangle (although Iery and Brinkley admit that the site has initially skewed heavily to Raleigh). These range from a different perspective on Vollis Simpson’s whirligig in the park at the N.C. Museum of Art, shelves of food at the Jerusalem Bakery, or an image of Raleigh’s acorn statue on a snowy winter day in Moore Square. It’s common for people to share pictures of their favorite restaurants and bars, while others take viewers with them on a bike ride along the Neuse River or visit to a downtown art gallery. Pet owners seem to have a hard time resisting sharing at least one photo of their dog or cat.
“The part I get excited about is seeing just how much people love the area,” says Iery. “They want to be the tour guide for the day. Raleigh has so much to offer, as do Durham and Chapel Hill.”