Lighthouses along the Outer Banks From Currituck to Ocracoke

4 Photos of Outer Banks LighthousesWhat a great time to plan a North Carolina OBX lighthouse tour. Here’s a pocket guide to four lighthouses perched along the Outer Banks. The tour spans more than 118 miles across three barrier islands. Most of the two-lane drive includes 82-miles on the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway. Highlights abound including the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, two national wildlife refuges, a state ferry ride, about a dozen coastal villages and four historic lighthouses. Please don’t try doing it in one day but instead, savor the experience and take in all the sights, sounds and scenes along the Outer Banks.

Spring at Currituck Beach Lighthouse

North of Whalebone Junction

Whalebone Junction is an Outer Banks landmark in Nags Head, NC where three major highways intersect. NC 12 links the three islands of the Outer Banks and all four lighthouses. Cape Hatteras National Seashore begins just south of the junction. We start our lighthouse journey 36 miles north in Historic Corolla Village.

The 162’ unpainted brick Currituck Beach Lighthouse was completed in 1795 and was the final station constructed along the Outer Banks. It was strategically built to guide vessels through the “dark spot” of the Atlantic that existed from Bodie Island to the Cape Henry Lighthouse in Virginia. You don’t have to climb the lighthouse to enjoy the experience. Take a stroll along the lighthouse station and admire the grounds, the Victorian Lighthouse Keeper’s house and the smaller “keeper’s” house, which was moved to the property in 1920. It now serves as the lighthouse station’s museum and gift shop. Admission to grounds and parking are free. There’s a $10 fee to climb the lighthouse tower. Click here for more info.

bodieislandlighthouse

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Bodie Island Light Station is located off of NC 12 between Nags Head and the Oregon Inlet approximately eight miles south of Whalebone Junction (US 158 and US 64 intersection).

The “climbing” season opens the third Friday in April and continues through Columbus Day. Reward yourself after the strenuous climb with the towering views of the sound, surf and sea. Visitors can also conveniently discover a variety of habitats including open fields, remote wetlands, maritime forests, salt marshes, beaches and dunes. The wildlife trail from the parking area leads visitors along a half-mile boardwalk to an observation deck that overlooks an expansive freshwater pond. Climbing tickets: $8 adults/ $4 senior citizens (62 or older), & children (11 and under, and at least 42″ tall). More info.

Sign welcoming visitors to Cape Hatteras Light Station

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is located approximately 47.5 miles south of Whalebone Junction on Hatteras Island in the town of Buxton, NC.

In 1990, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was moved nearly 1,500 feet from the eroding shoreline to its present site. In 1999, other facilities also had to be relocated including the Oil House, two cisterns, double keepers’ quarters and principal keeper’s quarters.

The lighthouse, standing 208′ ft. over the treacherous Diamond Shoals, is the world’s tallest and one of the most popular sites on Hatteras Island. Each year, more than 175,000 visitors climb the 257 steps to the top of the 1870 lighthouse.

Self-guided climbs are available from the 3rd Friday in April to Columbus Day in October. Climbing tickets: $8/adults and $4/senior citizens (62 or older) & children (11 and under, and at least 42″ tall), and the disabled. Tickets are available on a first come, first served basis and can only be purchased in-person at the site the day of the climb. (252) 995-4474. Click here for more info.

ocracokelighthouse

Ocracoke Lighthouse

The final leg of the tour includes an adventurous 36-mile ride south of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and a 45-minute ferry which connects Hatteras Island with Ocracoke Island. The 1823 Ocracoke Lighthouse is located in Ocracoke Village at the southern end of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The 75’ solid white lighthouse is the second oldest operating lighthouse in the U.S. and is open daily (It is not open for climbing). There is limited parking so most visitors walk or bike to the lighthouse. More info.

The lighthouse tour can be enjoyed over a long weekend or extended into multiple seasons. Like they say around here, “Whatever floats your boat?” Complete the OBX Lighthouse Bucket List at your own pace and create your own personal Outer Banks adventure. To learn more about these OBX treasures and other lighthouses in the region, please visit our interactive map and select “lighthouses” category.

Lighthouse Guide to the Outer Banks

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Currituck Sound Country Almanac Southern Shores to Corolla

Audubon’s Pine Island Sanctuary and CenterLast weekend, we were cheerfully saying goodbye to winter as we traveled on the edge of the continent along North Carolina’s Outer Banks. It felt like we were threading the eye of the needle as we headed north on Hwy 12 from Southern Shores. The road snaked along the razor-thin barrier island. A stretch of highway past Duck disclosed a sliver of constantly shifting land with less than a 1000’ beam from sound-to-sea. Most of our previous OBX adventures have taken us south along Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Today, my wife and I were day-tripping to Corolla for a hike through the Pine Island Audubon Sanctuary and Center. We were also going to get a sneak peek of Historic Corolla before the upcoming tourism season arrives. For now, this shoulder season was the perfect time to beat the crowds, discover Corolla and spend a wonderful spring-like day shooting the breeze.

As the coordinator for Your Pocket Guide to the Albemarle Sound, I’ve been extensively exploring the region the past couple of years discovering unique, one-of-a-kind places and experiences. I’ve skiffed skinny creeks, visited NC Century farms, cycled back roads, hitched ferries, toured breweries and browsed regional art galleries. One of the most challenging feats has been collecting a cache of local hiking trails. This region of the sounds where land merges with water has plenty of blueways, intra-coastal waterways, open seas and coastal rivers but unfortunately, there are very few off-pavement hiking or walking trails. So my wife and I were extremely excited to learn about the 2.5-mile (5-mile out and back) nature trail at Audubon’s Pine Island Sanctuary and Center.

Observation Platform at Audubon Pine Island Nature Trail

A Delicate Balance

North Carolina’s first Audubon Center is located on the northern end of the Outer Banks in Corolla. The sanctuary maintains a balanced resource management philosophy guided by conservation, education, research, habitat restoration and hunting. The public can enjoy sections of the 2,600-acre sanctuary and participate in spring and summer kayak tours and educational programs offered by the center. The 2.5-mile nature trail is open to the public and can be enjoyed year-round. Parking for the trail is located behind the Pine Island Racquet & Fitness Center.

The trail follows a dirt road from Pine Island to Duck and traverses through a variety of marine evergreen forests. Immediately, visitors will notice the gnarly, twisted canopy of live oaks. The wide roadbed offers excellent birding opportunities along the way. A wildlife observation platform is located one mile from the trailhead and at the end of the trail. Each platform provides excellent views of the sound, forests, marshes and creeks on Pine Island. Wildlife photographers will enjoy the photo blinds that enable up close and intimate sightings of migratory waterfowl and aquatic wildlife. Be sure to bring a pair of binoculars to extend your viewing opportunities to include the extensive marshland, duck blinds (29 total in the sanctuary), ponds and open sound. My wife and I enjoyed watching an Osprey munching on a large fish while it was precariously perched in a red bay shrub along Baum’s Creek and Yankee Pond. We also casually observed a few black ducks, a pair of grebes and a belted kingfisher from the platforms. A variety of songbirds were seen flitting above the shrub and canopy along the trail.

Trail notes: Leashed pets are permitted on the trail. Bring water for your dog if you decide to hike the entire trail. We found March to be an ideal time to experience the trail. Because the trail runs along an open road with very little shade, hiking in warmer weather might be best enjoyed in the cooler times of the day.

Whalehead Club with Currituck Beach Lighthouse

Historic Corolla

After our midday hike, we continued north for nine miles to visit Historic Corolla and Currituck Heritage Park. When we stepped out of our Subaru, it was like stepping back into time. The open park-like setting of Corolla Heritage Park unveiled the picturesque backdrop of the Whalehead Club.

Constructed nearly a century ago, the Art Nouveau mansion stands sentinel above the Currituck Sound and the 39-acre park. The 21,000 square foot structure was built in 1925 by the northern industrialist Edward Wright and his wife Louise. They also owned more than four miles of coastal property developed as a hunt club along the northern end of the island. The grand home served as their winter residence until 1928. The property changed ownership several times over the years. It is now owned by Currituck County and is managed by the county’s Travel and Tourism Department. The beautifully restored residence is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open for tours and events.

We continued our self-guided tour of the park down to Point Lawn to take in a soundside perspective of the club. We were quickly rewarded with a splendid view of Currituck Beach Lighthouse towering above the elegant canary-yellow mansion by the sea.

Currituck Beach Light Station

As we walked the half-mile back to the lighthouse grounds, we let our eyes slowly scroll up the 162’ unpainted brick Currituck Beach Lighthouse. The lighthouse was completed in 1795 and was the final station built along the Outer Banks. It was strategically built to guide vessels through the “dark spot” of the Atlantic that existed from Bodie Island to the Cape Henry lighthouse in Virginia. Although the lighthouse was closed for the season, we enjoyed strolling outside the property admiring the grounds, the Victorian Lighthouse Keeper’s house and a smaller “keeper’s” house, which we learned was moved to the property in 1920. It now serves as the lighthouse station’s museum and gift shop.

The 500-meter CAMA Sound Boardwalk east of the lighthouse station leads visitors to sweeping views of Currituck Sound and a long-range glimpse of the lighthouse.

Views of Currituck Beach Lighthouse from boardwalk

Currituck Sound: Past, Present & Future

The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education is another exciting attraction located at Currituck Heritage Park. The center is nestled on 29-acres overlooking Currituck Sound. The interpretive center houses a variety of exhibits that chronicle the region’s natural and cultural history. Families will certainly enjoy the 8,000-gallon aquarium and a number of other exhibits which showcase the region’s duck hunting heritage; decoy making culture; and Currituck Sound’s hunting and fishing history. Admission is free to the center and the adjacent grounds, which include a small picnic area.

Other seasonal activities at Currituck Heritage Park include fishing, crabbing, kayaking, treasure hunting and special events. The park is open from dawn to dusk year-round.

Trip Tip #33

 

 

Coming or Going ~ Make sure you stop by Coastal Provisions in Southern Shores for one of the OBX’s most authentic food, wine and beer experiences! Knowledgeable and friendly staff, best selection of oysters on the coast, great food, eclectic market and deli items all rolled up into one mighty fine stop.

Coastal Provisions Oyster Bar & Wine Café

 

 

 

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National Wildlife Refuges in Coastal NC Wild & Wonderful Resources

Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

The Federal Land Ownership Overview and Data Report in 2014 revealed that federal land ownership in North Carolina totaled 2,429,341 acres. This included land managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Defense, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Park Service. The USFWS administers approximately 420,068 acres. Most of this land in North Carolina is managed by the National Wildlife Refuge System, which includes 11 NWRS units and the Edenton National Fish Hatchery. Connecting Corridors attended a lecture last month to learn more about these fascinating natural resources.

NWR Volunteer discusses wildlife refuges in NC

NWR volunteer Bob Glennon discusses coastal refuges

Bob Glennon, a retired Natural Resource Planner for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a volunteer for the NWR gave an informative overview of the refuge system in our state. The presentation was part of the Harry Rosenblatt Memorial Speaker Series held at the Shepard-Pruden Memorial Library in Edenton, NC.

National Wildlife Refuge System Mission

Before the presentation, I picked up one of the refuge’s brochures and learned that the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

Glennon opened up with a geographical overview explaining, “We are blessed to have nine area refuges so close together.” He added, “Of the 11 NWR units managed in NC, nine are in northeastern NC. They are located all within two hours and span from the barrier islands along the Outer Banks west to the Roanoke River. According to Glennon, the area refuges make up approximately 380,000 acres.

Compared to other wildlife refuges in the 562-unit system, Glennon reasoned, “We’re not huge but instead, we are diverse.” The regional refuges are also relatively close together.

tours and wildlife Albemarle Sound

Wildlife Refuge Complex

Glennon pointed out that being so close is convenient for both visitors and staff. “Area refuges share staff, supplies and facilities,” explained Glennon. Refuges that share a similar ecological region or habitat and have a related purpose and management needs are grouped into a complex.

Alligator River, Pea Island, Mackay Island, Pocosin Lakes, Currituck and Roanoke River are managed as part of the North Carolina Coastal Plain National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Mattamuskeet, Cedar Island, and Swanquarter National Wildlife Refuges are managed as the Mattamuskeet Complex.

Working as a Natural Resource Planner for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Glennon wrote the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for nine of the NWR units. He confirmed, “Each refuge is unique and each refuge has its own delegated purpose mandated by Congress.” Glennon informed the group of the agency’s premier task, which focuses on a “wildlife first” conservation model and a “big six” core of wildlife dependent uses on wildlife refuges. They include environmental education, interpretation, photography, wildlife observation, hunting and fishing.

Glennon outlined each unit and shared his first hand experiences working professionally and as a volunteer for various refuges. He has led paddling tours of the Alligator River NWR and guided visitors along a sound-to-sea interpretive walk on the Pea Island NWR. There are many visitor experiences available at each refuge ranging from tram tours along the Alligator River to volunteering for “beach walks” during the sea turtle nesting season on Pea Island. Wildlife observation is one of the more popular activities and visitors may observe a variety of resident and migratory wildlife including red wolves, black bears, waterfowl, shorebirds, wildflowers, alligators, songbirds, wading birds, sea turtles and marine mammals. The refuges offer diverse habitats from one of the largest bottomland hardwood forest in the east coast to pocosins, marsh shrub forest and managed mainland and barrier island wetlands.

Great Egret Mattamuskeet NWR

Great Egret along Mattamuskeet NWR Wildlife Drive

Glennon acknowledged that refuge staff, interns and volunteers work with school groups, adjoining landowners and other community partners. Special partnerships or programs mentioned by Glennon include Swan Days at Mattamuskeet NWR and Wings Over Water Wildlife Festival (WOW). Glennon noted, “All refuges share the WOW event, which features over 30 tours, art instruction, drawing, photography and video workshops, natural history programs, and canoe tours.” Recently, the WOW Festival has added an encore session in December.

Paddlers touring Alligator National Wildlife Refuge

The Alligator River NWR is a popular destination for paddlers

In the two years that I’ve resided in eastern NC, I’ve been fortunate to visit nine of the 11 refuges including the National Fish Hatchery in Edenton. I’ve enjoyed wildlife photography, birding and fishing at several of the refuges. I have also paddled several of the paddle trails in Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes. I look forward to completing my northeastern, NC NWR bucket list soon.

To learn more about each refuge and programming opportunities including volunteering, click on the following links:

National Wildlife Refuge list by State
Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society

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Weather or Not, Here We Go! Midwinter Sound Sampler

Midwinter Sound Sampler of things to do around the Albemarle SoundSo far this winter, we’ve experienced a baffling pattern of weather. A series of cold, windy days gives way to near record high temperatures the following day. Just when you start to take advantage of a spring-like day, the weather changes. Regardless of the unpredictable forecast, we’ve designed a sundry list of things-to-do for the next month or so. This midwinter sampler of events includes a celebration of Black History Month and a state park rain-or-shine outing. We’ve also featured a local Mardi Gras fundraiser and a spring gardening workshop. As you all know, when February rolls around, we coastal plain dwellers optimistically predict that spring is only a few weeks away. Some years, that’s certainly the case so keep your fingers crossed and sync one or two of these events to your personal calendar. We tried to make it easy for you by including indoor and outdoor events. And just in case the fickle weather continues, we added a few more options under the quick-links listings.

Judging by the early display of flowering quince and daffodils blooming in my neighborhood, it looks like smooth (spring) sailing ahead!

Featured Events

Black HIstory Month events along the Albemarle Sound

Slave Voices in North Carolina
Creswell High School Auditorium
Saturday, February 18, 1pm

Somerset Place State Historic Site will share a Black History Month lecture “Slave Voices in North Carolina,” at Creswell High School. The free program will present words from the enslaved including the personal narratives of Moses Roper, Lunsford Lane, and Harriet Jacobs; and the poetry of George Moses Horton.

Lucinda MacKethan, Ph.D. will present the lecture drawing from these narratives and interviews from the Works Program Administration. She will discuss how these works offer an authentic picture of how NC slaves lived, worked, created families, worshipped, and sometimes escaped from bondage.

The lecture will focus on Somerset Place in Creswell, and Historic Stagville State Historic Site in Durham. A reception will follow the program. This project is made possible by funding from the North Carolina Humanities Council. More info.

 

Programs at Goose Creek State Park

Wetland Wonders!
Goose Creek State Park
Washington, NC
Saturday, February 25, 2017 – 2:00pm

Spend the afternoon with a ranger while learning about the amazing animals that call our wetlands ‘home’.  This program will take place in the Discovery Room which is located in the visitor center. More info.

Goose Creek State Park's Discovery Room

 

 

Goose Creek State Park Trip tip ~ Plan on taking some extra time before or after the program to explore this natural treasure perched along Goose Creek and the Pamlico River. Check out the trails, enjoy a picnic and discover the coastal gem. Be sure to tour the wetlands along the .5 mile Palmetto Boardwalk or enjoy the family-friendly Discovery Room that includes interactive exhibits and a bird observation station.

2017 Mardi Gras Gala for the Outer Banks Children @ Play Museum

The 2017 Mardi Gras Gala for the Outer Banks Children @ Play Museum
Saturday, March 4, 2017, 7:00pm
Jarvisburg, NC

The event hosted by Sanctuary Vineyards features a traditional New Orleans style buffet, wine and beer, live music, dancing, a silent auction and more. Proceeds from the gala benefit the Outer Banks Children @ Play museum – a family interactive museum designed to encourage families to learn and grow together through play! Tickets sell out quickly. $65/person.

 

The Elizabethan Gardens Spring Annuals Workshop

Spring Annuals Workshop
Saturday, March 11, 10am – 12pm
Manteo, NC

The Elizabethan Gardens invites folks to come out from under the winter chill and join the staff for the hands-on workshop. Gardens and Facility Mgr. Jeffrey Wuilliez will discuss and demonstrate techniques in cutting, setting up and designing dormant beds, design layouts and the plantings of spring annuals. Advanced registration required. Limited to 12 participants. $15 for members. $30 for not-yet members.  Some events are subject to change and availability. Please call ahead to confirm details and interest 252.473.3234.

 

things to do along the Albemarle Sound

Midwinter Quick Links

Through February – College of the Albemarle’s Annual Jewelry ExhibitDare County Arts Council host this annual exhibit of jewelry and metalwork, featuring the talents of College of the Albemarle’s Professional Crafts: Jewelry Program.

The Historic Edenton State Historic Site celebrates Women’s History Month with Daily tours throughout March. The guided tours focus on the women who lived and impacted the town and beyond. Historic sites include the James Iredell House, St. Paul’s Church, Cupola House, Barker House and the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse.

SA (3/11), 8am – Running of the Leprechauns, Nags Head, NC. The annual event offers a choice of 5K & 10K routes. Post race party with Irish Stew, Sweet Potato Biscuits & Beer. Packet pick-up will be held at Outer Banks Sporting Events from 4:30-7pm on Friday and race morning from 7-7:45am.

SU (3/12), 1:00-2:30pm – Merchants Millpond State Park invites you to Canoe the Pond in a canoe or kayak.  This is a good time to get a closer look at the mistletoe deformed water tupelo trees, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and various plant life. Meet at the visitor center located at 176 Millpond Road, Gatesville, NC. 27938.  Canoes and kayak provided by the park. FREE. For more information call: (252) 357-1191.

(3/23–27) – The Outer Banks Restaurant Association presents the Outer Banks Taste of the Beach which features four days of food, drink, fun and festivities. This year’s festival includes beer pairings, wine tastings, cooking classes, special multi-course menu presentations, brewery tours, tapas crawls, cook-offs, showdowns and progressive dinners. Over 30 participating venues and nearly 60 events along the Outer Banks showcase the innovative culinary opportunities and talents of the region’s creative chefs.

 

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Craft Beer Guide to the Albemarle Sound Breweries, Bottle Shops & Further Adventures

craftbeerguideWelcome to the 2017 Craft Beer Guide to the Albemarle Sound! The clever digital guide is perfect for the beer enthusiast charting a course to the region where land and water merge.  It is designed to help visitors and locals navigate their way through breweries, tap rooms, local bottle shops, growler filling stations and a few small-batch brew fests that seasonally land along our shores. We also squeezed in an introduction to seasonal selections that are specially brewed for the holidays and winter. By no means is this a “definitive” guide but one emerging and a work-in-progress. We’re simply trying to maintain pace with the exploding craft beer movement taking hold in our state. Stay tuned, keep in touch and let us know about regional craft beer news brewing in the region.

Currently, the Old North State claims more than 180 craft breweries. Here in the northeastern corner of the state, more and more craft breweries are popping up in the low country. As you travel around the region, you’re sure to gain a better appreciation of our regional microbreweries as you sample the eclectic styles of beer, meet the passionate brewers, go behind the scenes on a brewery tour and hear the wonderful stories that are connected to these creative enterprises.

We encourage our readers to learn more about the brewing process, discover the camaraderie of the craft beer community and maybe even take a few field notes next time you’re out test driving a flight of locally brewed beer. Hopefully, our guide will help point you in the right direction.

Happy Trails!                           cheerstocraftbeeralbemarlesound

Craft Beer News around the Sound

The Outer Banks Brewing Station is spreading holiday cheer one sip at a time with their Christmas Beer release this month – a Belgian Trappist style ale crafted with locally sourced pecans. Yum! They’re teaming up this year with the Rum Boys over at Outer Banks Distilling in Manteo, NC. OBBS is brewing the seasonal with “spent” pecans used to make the popular Kill Devil Hills Pecans and Honey Rum.

Just in time to welcome the cold weather, Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery in Farmville released their Baltic Porter. A recent exploration of their website on the Our Beers menu described it as being “deep, rich and velvety soft with full blooded roasty character.” The brewers add, “This special brew rewards unhurried attention.” Sounds like good advice and the perfect beer to savor during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

Also, a big shout out to the microbrewery for their award in the 5th Annual NC Brewers Cup held earlier this fall. The Duck-Rabbit Märzen won 2nd Place in the Commercial European Amber Lager Class. This year’s competition included 651 total entries, which included 477 commercial entries and 174 home-brew entries. The event is organized by the N.C. Craft Brewers Guild and also serves as a Beer Judge Certification Program.

 

 

Connecting Communities – Small batch brewers are “crafty” in their use of locally sourced ingredients. From barley, wheat, rye and hops to sorghum, pecans, figs, blackberries, sweet potatoes and persimmons. This plow-to-pint movement is cultivating “beer farms” that produce local ingredients for the craft beer & home brew industry.

From the Tar River to Currituck Sound

Weeping Radish Brewery, Butchery & Farm located in Grandy, NC always brings joy to the holidays with their seasonal (Fall & Winter) Christmas Bier. The Doppelbock (Double Bock) is traditionally stronger than the German-style bock beer but not necessarily twice the strength as the double bock might suggest. The hearty beer tends to be exceptionally malty but surprisingly, not too bitter. These extraordinary beers trace their roots back to the 17th century. According to Weeping Radish’s website, “A Bavarian specialty first brewed in Munich by the monks of St. Francis of Paula.” One interesting side note — the Doppelbock is craft brewed using NC grown hops and malt.

Tarboro Brewing Company recently brewed and kegged their first Imperial Stout, which they named Southern Solstice. Talk about good timing – just in time for the Historic Tarboro’s Annual Weekend Christmas Crawl held last week. Hmm, might be a good idea to ring in the New Year with the folks at TBC and listen to some live local music, make new friends and check out the seasonal stout!

For all you “fest heads” out there, hurry up and buy tickets now if you want attend our region’s first craft beer festival of 2017! Greenville, North Carolina will be hosting the Jolly Skull Beer & Wine Festival on January 21, 2017. The seventh annual event showcases more than 50 American craft microbreweries and wineries. Approximately 125 beers and wines will be featured. Click here for tickets and more info.

Craft Beer Guide to the Albemarle Sound including Bottle Shops

further craft beer adventures albemarle sound

craftbeerfieldnotesalbemarlesound

The Craft Beer Guide to the Albemarle Sound & Beyond!

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10 Outings around the Albemarle Sound

passport to 10 albemarle sound outingsWe’ve assembled a collection of outings that circumnavigate the region of the Albemarle Sound. Most of these explorations have been featured in our blog posts, digital guides and maps. Others are recommendations from some of our soundside friends, local guides and park rangers.  Sample a few of these destinations on your next day trip or create your own Albemarle Sound Passport and visit each of the ten locations listed below. You’re sure to develop a better appreciation of our beloved Albemarle Sound! Check out the interactive map to help guide you effortlessly along your next journey through the area. Some of the links direct you to more in-depth information that we’ve showcased in our articles while others land you directly onto a map or website. Either way, we’d like to point you in the right direction and encourage you to get out and explore the enchanting region of land and water.

If you discover other hidden treasures along your journey, please let us know and we’ll add them to our growing list of special places along the Albemarle Sound. Our “Things to Do” map includes over 200 regional listings devoted to those who travel with adventure in their hearts and a guide in their pocket!

Choose Your Flavor

10 Outings around the Albemarle Sound

 

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Paddling the Scuppernong River

pocosin lakes nwrMotorists heading east to the Outer Banks on Highway 64 get one of their first panoramic views of a tributary estuary from the arching, high rise bridge spanning over the river. The NCDOT River Basin Sign identifies the body of water as the “Scuppernong River, Part of the Pasquotank River Basin.” The blackwater river slowly merges with the Albemarle Sound four miles north of the bridge but it’s the enchanting scenery south that has always intrigued me. This summer, my wife and I recently mapped out a half-day paddling trip and finally charted the alluring waters of the Scuppernong.

scuppernong river rendering

The Scuppernong River – Where Water meets Land

The meandering coastal river flows through Hyde, Washington and Tyrell Counties. Its headwaters originate in Lake Phelps and by the time it reaches Bull Bay at the sound, it is nearly two miles wide. This is one of the least populated regions in North Carolina and one of the wildest landscapes in the southeast! The Scuppernong River characterizes a dynamic coastal natural community where water and land merge. Together, they form a contrasting environment of swamp forest, tannic waters, mystery, marshland, floating vegetation and elevated wetlands. This unique geography offers a lifetime of outdoor recreational opportunities including paddling, fishing, hunting, boating, wildlife viewing and so much more.

More than 540,000 acres of federal and state lands are currently under conservation management along the peninsula that lies between the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds. This includes Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and the Pungo Unit of Pocosin Lakes. The refuge headquarters and Walter B. Jones, Sr. Center for the Sounds is located on the south side of Hwy. 64 on the Scuppernong River in Columbia, NC. A canoe/kayak launch is conveniently located behind the headquarters.

scuppernong river floating dock

Not so Perfect Landing

As we were launching our kayaks, a group of visitors were taking photos of a young river otter frolicking in the shallow waters. After a surprising launch calamity, I soon joined the otter as my stern got hung up on the awkwardly designed landing slide and I instantly capsized into the water. A cable had been placed under the metal slide preventing it from gradually sloping into the water’s edge. It was like launching a kayak off a pool deck four inches above the water. A boater friend of mine had warned me about the hazardous launching platform. We often joke that engineers have good intentions but their designs often do not function well in the field. I’ve witnessed several landings in the region where the launch chute is not large enough to accommodate touring kayaks over 12’ long. Next time, I’ll launch parallel to the floating dock and utilize a more conventional method that relies on my paddle as an extension to the dock.

kayakerscupperongriver

Anyway, my wife had a good laugh about the wet entrance as we headed upstream along the placid river. A moderate wind blew directly into our path but we easily glided forward beside the marshy flats and enjoyed a beautiful start to a blue-sky day. The Scuppernong River Interpretive Trail Boardwalk traverses through the wetlands ¾’s of a mile on the east side of the river. We noticed several large cypress trees, gum and a forest of snags along the banks. The standing dead trees provide excellent habitat for bats, owls, wood ducks, chimney swifts and other cavity dwelling species. During the day, we casually noticed a variety of birds including a pair of Red-Shouldered Hawks, Herring Gulls, Wood Ducks and several songbirds along the brushy banks. I remember reading the refuge’s brochure that informed, “More than 300 different wildlife species, including the endangered red wolf and red-cockaded woodpecker, inhabit the refuge.” Other wildlife encountered along the river corridor includes deer, bobcat, bear, foxes and a variety of reptiles and amphibians.

Riders Creek joins the river along a southeastern cove where the river begins to narrow. We paddled a mile or so above the creek’s entrance then turned around at the Scuppernong Paddle Trail mile marker 10 and let the tail winds guide us home. Before we called it a day, we continued beyond the landing and spent some time paddling along the town’s waterfront. A steady stream of Outer Banks’ westbound motorists sped along the bridge overlooking the river. Maybe one or two of them will see our kayaks drifting on the Scuppernong and decide to explore it themselves when they return back to the region between the sounds. The river piqued my interest a couple of years ago but today, it captured my full attention!

day's end paddle scuppernong river

 

 

So what exactly is a pocosin? Derived from a native American word for “swamp on a hill,” these flat, swampy coastal communities naturally occur along the Atlantic Coastal plain of the US from northern Florida to southern Virginia. They are also called southern shrub bogs and form in elevated wetlands between streams and creeks. Pocosin wetlands enhance wildlife habitat, lessen the impact of flooding and protect estuarine water quality.

 

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Currituck, the Road Less Traveled

morrisfarmmarketcurrituck

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost

The summer traffic coming and going to the Outer Banks is heaviest on Saturday during the biggest check-in day. My wife and I found this out through firsthand experience. We had embarked on a Saturday trip to Corolla from Edenton, NC. At the intersection of Hwy. 158/Hwy. 168 in Barco, we noticed a travel time message sign indicating “delayed traffic” toward the beach. Following the lead of the Pulitzer Prize poet, we decided to take the one [road] less traveled and turned north and “that made all the difference.” We shifted gears, took an alternate route and ended up having a delightful afternoon touring the back roads of Currituck County.

Just a couple of miles north, we stopped at Morris Farm Market – a place that has blossomed into an authentic quintessential Northeastern NC family experience. What started as a roadside stand in 1982 has now grown to include “acres and acres” of produce, baked goods, ciders, NC craft beer & wine, tractor-churned ice cream, farm animals, tractors and more! We picked up a variety of grab-n-go snacks for an afternoon picnic then stopped by the outdoor bar to savor a pint of Mother Earth Brewery’s Sister of the Moon IPA. We listened to a local duo perform a few nice acoustic tunes while we planned the rest of the day’s backup itinerary. The chalkboard sign above the bar suggested to “Sip while you Shop” confirming that we had made a good decision to adjust our original travel plans. Down-home, down east and pet-friendly, Morris Farm Market is a “must do” stopover on your next outing to the OBX!

outdoorbarmorrisfarmmarketcurrituck ­­Currituck \KURR-i-tuck\

With our alternate plans settled now, we had a little extra time to explore the area before we set off on the afternoon ferry. The thin strip of land stretching down Currituck County mainland is primarily farmland, wetlands, open space and water. This peninsula connects the coastline and is bounded by Currituck Sound on the east, the North River on the west and the Albemarle Sound south of Point Harbor. The Currituck Courthouse and the Old Currituck Jail are both near the ferry terminal so we parked our car and walked over to the historic site and learned that the jail was constructed circa 1820 making it one of the oldest extant jails in North Carolina. Both buildings stand sentinel above the expansive backdrop of Currituck Sound.

oldcurrituckjailApproximately 15 vehicles loaded the ferry and we departed on schedule at 3 p.m. The 45-minute ferry crosses a 5-mile section of the sound, which according to the ferry captain averages depths of eight feet. The Currituck/Knotts Island Ferry is a year-round free ferry that’s managed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry System. It makes six round-trips daily during the summer season.

Currituck, Adventures Past & Present

Local islanders refer to travelers who visit their paradise as “daytrippers.” Our Knotts Island adventure started with a scenic driving tour of Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge. The Fish and Wildlife Service administers the refuge located on the NC/VA state line along North Landing River. The majority of the refuge’s land is located in Currituck County. The island is actually a peninsula connected to Virginia’s mainland with a solitary road along a man-made causeway. The peninsula appeared as Knots Isle on early pre-colonial maps of the 17th century. Water and the geographic isolation has always defined the region and its inhabitants so naturally, it has developed a rich heritage of hunting, fishing and outdoor life. Locals claim that the origin of the name “Currituck” was loosely derived from Carotank; a Native American word for “land of the wild goose.” Today these lands provide a sanctuary for thousands of migratory waterfowl including numerous species of geese.

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The peninsula changed ownership several times since 1728 when NC commissioners drove the first stake in the ground to mark the Carolina-Virginia border. One of the most influential landowners was Joseph Palmer Knapp. The wealthy New York publisher and philanthropist purchased property on the island in 1918 and built a hunting lodge and grand resort. He also experimented with innovative wildlife management practices. Knapp and a small group of conservationist pioneers became concerned about dwindling waterfowl breeding habitat in the U.S. and Canada. The group began fundraising across the country to create a conservation organization in 1930, which eventually became Ducks Unlimited. From these humble roots, Ducks Unlimited has become one of the preeminent sportsmen-based conservation and wetlands conservation advocacy organizations in North America.

The refuge is located primarily in the southwest region of the marshy peninsula. Basically, three access roads provide entry into the refuge. Sections of the refuge may experience seasonal closures during the winter because of prescribed burns and other management-related activities. A variety of habitats can be discovered along the Marsh Causeway (NC-615), the refuge internal roads, various overlooks and pedestrian trails. Cycling is allowed along some roads and trails. The .3-mile Great Marsh Trail can be easily accessed directly on NC-615. We opted for a convenient stop at the Kuralt Trail Overlook. The observation site is popular among birders and wildlife photographers. Two spotting scopes located on the elevated platform above the Great Marsh allow excellent, up close viewing of birds and other wildlife. We also stopped by Corey’s Ditch where we enjoyed a short break throwing a cast net in the creek and observing the wide-open marshlands.

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Take Me Home, Country Roads

We chose to explore the terrestrial way home instead of back tracking on the ferry. We saw several groups of cyclists riding the rural roads. NC-615 and other low motor traffic roads along the peninsula are popular bike touring routes. The Tidewater Bicycling Association in Chesapeake, VA utilizes these routes each spring for their signature cycling event. This year they celebrated the 40th Annual Knotts Island Century, which included five route options – two that include ferry ‘hops’ during the rides.

Before our own ‘century trip’ ended, we stopped by Frog Island Seafood located at the junction of Hwy 158/168 in Barco, NC. We took their advice to “Buy Today – Feast Tomorrow!” and purchased some fresh scallops. We also sat down for a delicious meal in their diner section of the market and reflected on the day’s journey. The country roads and scenery along Currituck Sound proved to be a delightful retreat away from the bustling beach season along the OBX. We feel like we know this charming slice of land a little better now and it makes us appreciate the northeastern most region of NC we now call home!

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Going Green in the Tar Heel State

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There appears to be an increasing trend of responsible travelers who consider the environment and sustainability when booking a trip, visiting a park or dining out at a local restaurant. Today it seems, “Going green is more than being cool, it is also smart!” From “green city” travel apps to eco-friendly lodging, more and more travelers, vendors, and travel organizations are choosing eco-friendly options. In May, Mandala Research and Sustainable Travel International released an 80+page report that surveyed nearly 3,000 travelers. Sixty-three percent of all travelers say they are much more likely to consider destinations where there is a strong effort to conserve and protect natural resources. Fortunately, the Tar Heel State offers a wealth of resources for the green-conscious traveler.

Businesses Strive toward a Green Standard

North Carolina’s GreenTravel Recognition Program is one of the most comprehensive in the nation. It was launched in 2011 becoming NC’s first statewide sustainable travel recognition program. Businesses that demonstrate a commitment to green tourism practices and achieve voluntary standards are eligible for recognition. These standards include compliance to regulatory rules and regulations, environmental protection policies, sustainability practices, waste reduction and recycling, energy management procedures and other guidelines.nc green travel initiativeGreen tourism operations include lodging, food service, attractions, museums, parks, vacation rentals, convention centers, festivals and other travel-oriented businesses. The initiative has been developed through a partnership of the North Carolina Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service; The Center for Sustainability at East Carolina University; Visit North Carolina, and the Waste Reduction Partners program.

Tim Rhodes, Program Director of the NC GreenTravel Initiative, recently explained, “The purpose of the NC GreenTravel Initiative is to encourage a strong economy and promote sustainable tourism by awarding recognition to those businesses that apply and are accepted into the program.” The recognition program promotes robust economic growth and environmental stewardship in the travel and hospitality sector through the recognition of “green” travel-oriented businesses. Best of all, there is no cost involved in becoming a recognized NC GreenTravel business.

Digital Directory & Helpful Links

The website is a valuable toolkit for both residents and visitors traveling in North Carolina. Visitors to the site can browse a list or navigate a state map of Recognized NC GreenTravel members across the state. Tourism sectors are broken into several categories from lodging, dining, attractions, parks, festivals, vine & wine, nature-based and breweries. More than 100 businesses, parks, travel centers and other tourism sites are listed on the map and crisscross the state from Walnut Hollow Ranch in Hayesville to Cape Hatteras B & B in Buxton. Rhodes noted that there are 14 North Carolina State Parks participating in the NC GreenTravel Initiative including Merchants Millpond State Park in Gatesville, NC. The initiative has recently announced that Sustainable Farms can now apply for recognition. Farms currently listed on the program’s website include Hop’n Blueberry Farm in Black Mountain, Summerfield Farms in Summerfield, Ninja Cow Farm in Raleigh and Good Karma Ranch in Iron Station. These farms have met and exceeded the required criteria for becoming recognized as a Sustainable Tourism Farm.

merchants millpond state park

NC GreenTravel recognized Green Park – Merchants Millpond State Park

Whether you’re a business or traveler, you’ll discover a number of sustainable travel resources and links throughout the website – from NC Agritourism, tips for sustainable practices to green dining. Thanks to this exciting green travel program and partnership, NC travelers can now easily discover and support sustainable businesses throughout the Old North State.

Want to learn more? The North Carolina Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service (NC DEACS) can help businesses become more sustainable by providing them with non-regulatory, no-cost technical assistance and information. For information about the services provided by NC DEACS, contact tom.rhodes@ncdenr.gov or call (919) 707-8140.

Green Trips & Tips Along the Albemarle Sound Region

 

 

Step back in time and stay at the Beechtree Inn located in Hertford, NC. Choose among five pre-Civil War houses perched along 40 acres. A few of the cottages are pet-friendly. After a hearty country breakfast, take a road trip to Merchants Millpond State Park. Rent a canoe and paddle the enchanted cypress swamp and millpond.

 

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Day 2. Enjoy a lovely north-of-the-sound drive to the Outer Banks. Start the morning along one of NC Birding Trails at North River Game Land in Camden Co. Spend a casual afternoon fishing or strolling along NC Aquarium’s Jennett’s Pier in Nags Head, NC. Be sure to buy some NC Local Catch seafood while your dining out or shopping at the local market.

 

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Paddling Milltail Creek

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A group of Edenton paddlers recently traveled across the sound for an adventurous day exploring the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is home to black bear, deer, reptiles and a variety of waterfowl. Alligators and red wolves also inhabit the 152,000-acres of wild land, wetlands and water. Milltail Creek and Sawyer Lake are popular recreational areas within the boundaries of the refuge and a network of paddle trails is easily accessed from Hwy 64 approximately 15 miles west of Manteo, NC.

Milltail Creek Paddle Trails

Twelve of us caravanned from the Peanut Mill in Edenton, NC to the trailhead, which is located two miles off Hwy 64 at the end of Buffalo City Rd. Paddlers can choose among four paddle trails in the Milltail Creek/Sawyer Lake region of the refuge. Each trail has a color-coded marker along the route that directs paddlers to trail changes and/or trail intersections. Our group was excited to explore these designated paddling trails, which are also called water trails or blueways. Multi-agency coordination, non-profits and volunteers have developed hundreds of miles of trails throughout the Albemarle Sound. Developed paddle trails provide printed and digital information, convenient access, signage, safe parking areas and alternate routes that can accommodate a wide variety of user groups.

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Novice paddlers and families with young children can enjoy the 1.5-mile loop (red) trail that includes a paddle through a narrow canal and a strand along Milltail Creek. There’s also a 5.5-mile point-to-point option (blue trail) along Milltail Creek, which requires a shuttle or a vehicle drop from a canoe/kayak access point along Milltail Rd. The yellow trail follows Milltail Creek west for four miles to the confluence of the Alligator River. The round trip out-and-back is approximately eight miles. The green trail follows the small canal to a passageway that leads paddlers to beautiful Sawyer Lake.

Spirited Trip Leader

Allan, our group leader, always prepares well when he plans a group outing. He does his homework with the research, shoots us a trip summary and invitation. A few weeks later, a dozen or so local paddlers show up for the annual adventure. Allan also has a knack for keeping things fun and maintaining a “go with flow” attitude on each trip.

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After we parked and surveyed the scene at this year’s outing, our energized group offloaded the boats and gear then shared ideas about which paddling trails we wanted to explore. A couple of others intuitively scouted out the launch options to various routes. Immediately from the launch area, boaters face a decision to paddle up a narrow canal (red trail) filled with alligator weed or sneak through a narrow passageway underneath a small bridge and escape into Milltail Creek. Since the wind was light in the morning, we opted for the wide-open space and methodically launched each of our boats, paddled under the wooden bridge, scooted through a weed-clogged barrier and eased into a panoramic view of Milltail Creek.

Even though we were only an hour or so from our paddling commute, we were now paddling in paradise on a gorgeous day and one filled with endless possibilities.

Milltail Creek

Our colorful kayaks provided a delightful contrast with the tannin-soaked water and green alligator weed-choked shoreline. Milltail Creek appeared more of a lake than a creek in some areas. We chose to hug the eastern shore where we soon noticed a trail marker with multiple colors that indicated the intersection of the green Sawyer Lake Trail. We continued along Milltail Creek and paddled approximately 1.5 miles into a beautiful cove. Once out of the cove, we noticed a significant headwind blowing from the south. We paddled another half mile and crossed over the expansive creek then continued along the west bank. A few of us noticed the blue markers along the trail as we completed a circuit on Milltail Creek.

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Returning back to the landing, we took advantage of a restroom and snack break then forged ahead up the small canal trail. This section parallels the Sandy Ridge Wildlife Trail – a half-mile footpath that heads out of the parking lot. The narrow passage proved to be lots of fun as our train of boats zigzagged through alligator weed thickets, over downed trees and under outstretched limbs. After twenty minutes, we reached the same intersection that we had scoped out earlier and picked up the blue trail leading to Sawyer Lake.

Sawyer Lake

As we entered Sawyer Lake, OBX Kayak Adventures was leading an Alligator River NWR tour with approximately ten paddlers. The refuge offers licensed commercial outfitters special permits for guiding activities. Several outfitters from the Outer Banks conduct paddling tours to the area.

The lake is surrounded by wetland forests of bald cypress-gum, cedar, loblolly pine, and a variety of bay forest species. Remnant stands of Atlantic White Cedar can be observed throughout the refuge’s forests. We noticed several cavities hammered out by woodpeckers in a number of snags lining the shore. The shoreline is quite deceptive and really isn’t defined by solid ground. A few of us stuck our kayak paddles into the water as depth finders near the islands of alligator weed and lily pads. In most cases, we didn’t hit bottom.

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In a secluded cove, we instinctively huddled into a rafting group on the northeast corner of the lake and simply let the wind direct our course of travel. We seemed quite content drifting along as we marveled at the natural landscape and mirrored reflections of the lake, forest and sky. Conversations of the historic past were casually discussed. Days of moonshining, dodging revenuers and Buffalo City memoirs were tossed around as we unconsciously shared the natural wonders of wild space.

Reluctantly, we slowly paddled our final leg of the day’s journey. Combining the various trails, our group covered approximately seven miles while utilizing three different trails. Even though we didn’t observe any bears or alligators, the Milltail Creek paddling trip gifted us with a “taste of the wild” and a greater appreciation of the region we work live and play in. Our paddling experience in the Alligator National Wildlife Refuge reminded all of us how good it can be when we successfully balance conservation, education, research, and wildlife with nature, recreation and wilderness. Paddle on!

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