Despite Dorian, a year of progress for OBX Parks

By on February 26, 2020

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It’s been a good year for the National Park Service Outer Banks Group according to Superintendent Dave Hallac.

The Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, the Wright Brothers Memorial and Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS), the parks that make up the Outer Banks Group, hosted around 3.25 million visitors last year. Most of the visitation was at CHNS where slightly more than 2.6 million visitors were counted.

“The year 2019 was the busiest year we’ve had at the seashore in 16 years,” Hallac said during a briefing with the media on Feb. 24.

What is perhaps most notable about that figure is that 2019 began with a government shutdown that closed all park facilities until January 25 and also included Hurricane Dorian, a storm that caused widespread damage across much of the area the includes CHNS.

Some of the hurricane damage is repairable—damaged showers and restroom buildings in campgrounds or the restrooms and the visitor’s center at the Silver Lake dock in Ocracoke can be fixed. But some buildings may not survive.

At the Ocracoke Lighthouse, the double keeper’s house was flooded and the damage was significant. The grounds of the lighthouse were the spot where historically, villagers would go to escape high water.

“We have a project proposal in for the double keeper’s quarters to raise it about four feet off the ground. That’s very, very expensive, especially for a historical building. But now the air conditioning units, the underpinning, the insulation, the duct work, the flooring, the walls, the electrical system, everything is in bad shape,” he said.

“We’re going to have to make some decisions about what’s sustainable. This is a place that it’s going to be hard to access it in the future. The landscape around it is very close to sea level,” he added.

The National Park Service and CHNS played a pivotal role in the clean-up of Hatteras and Ocracoke. In both areas, NPS beach access parking lots were used for collecting the refuse and damages from Dorian.

Although Hurricane Dorian dominated the headlines, there were a number of other developments that represented steps forward for the Outer Banks Group.

On Hatteras Island, the area around Canadian Hole—the Haul Over—got a much needed second parking lot and some improvements. The new Kite Point facility just south of Canadian Hole should alleviate the need for parking along NC 12.

Handicapped access has also been improved.

“As you head south from Whalebone Junction…we have a new accessible hunting and wildlife watching blind,” Hallac said. “We spent a lot of time with the folks from the Wildlife Commission…to find a way to get folks out into the marsh who might have accessibility issues.”

The renovation of the Wright Brothers Visitors Center was also completed this past year.

“After submitting paperwork and inspections, that facility achieved a LEED gold certification. That’s really exciting…especially for a building built in the 1960s,” Hallac said.

Additionally, there were a number of improvements at the camping areas and for the first time, some camp sites remained open all year.

“Almost eighty thousand people stay overnight in campgrounds. That’s something a lot of people don’t realize that we support overnight visitation,” he said.

CHNS also saw some evidence that efforts to bring back healthy populations of sea turtles may be paying off. After noting that every sea turtle that nests on the Outer Banks is considered either endangered or threatened, Hallac said that 2019 was a record year for sea turtle nests.

“We had 473 sea turtle nests. To have this level of nesting is a sign that recovery of these species occurring,” he said.

The Outer Banks Group has approximately a $15.4 million budget for the fiscal year that ends September 30. The base figure that Congress has allocated is $9.8 million, about $150,000 more than the previous year. Because the total budget includes fees and donations, that may be a little more or a little less than $15.4 million.

Many national parks have a nonprofit specifically associated with it that helps with volunteers for projects and fundraising for that park. In 2018, Outer Banks Forever was formed to help the Outer Banks Group fulfill their mission.

There are a number of projects Outer Banks Forever is hoping to fund including Webcams in Your Parks, which will install them at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Waterside Theater at the Lost Colony and the Wright Brothers Memorial. The group is also hoping to start a summer speaker series, an Artist in Residence program and build a kayak launch at Oregon Inlet among other initiatives.

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