Draft Plan for Economic Growth on Ocracoke

Jenny Scarborough
Is this the dawn of a new era?
Is this the dawn of a new era?

The Saltwater Connections resource team presented a draft report in mid-March.

Saltwater Connections is a program of community development work enabled through a grant from the NC Rural Center.  It seeks to connect the 21 unincorporated communities along the National Scenic Byway stretching from the North River bridge in Bettie, Carteret County to Whalebone Junction in Dare.

"We believe we can do more together than we can separately," said Karen Amspacher, director of Core Sound Waterfowl Museum, who has been heading up the project.  In grant applications, regional is the new black.  It is "hard to find a grant for one thing in one place.  Make a basketful and you can get someone's attention," she said.

1950s photo from Core Sound.
1950s photo from Core Sound.

Saltwater Connections has led to the formation of a Hatteras Village Council to create dialogue between their seven villages.  Resource team member Sara Mirabilio of the NC Sea Grant Extension Program said,  "They realized they have to be talking."  The goal is not only new job creation, but "growing and sustaining current businesses," she said.

Mainland Hyde also initiated strategic planning.

Amspacher realizes it can feel as if "Ocracoke probably's been planned to death," but said that wasn't the case for our neighboring communities, who look at the island for "inspiration." 

There are many areas where we share concerns, and will benefit by seeking funds together.  "Affordable housing is critical on Ocracoke, it is a need on Hatteras, and it's going to be critical on Harker's Island," said Amspacher.  The NC Catch programs which promote fisheries will be in a better position to receive funding, she said.

Draft Plan for Economic Growth on Ocracoke

One recommendation is that Ocracoke "look at selling points other than just having the best beach designation," said Mirabilio.  The island could promote itself as a sophisticated culinary destination, and complement fishing trips with cooking classes.   Cultural and environmental tourism like graveyard walks, stargazing and bird tours could be popular, she said.

The report notes that Ocracoke has one of the few protected harbors along the Outer Banks.  The village could do more to attract transient boaters.   Ocracoke could explore funding for island-wide Wi-Fi, which many municipalities now provide in parks and public spaces as an added appeal to visitors.   This would also benefit small businesses and low income families, said Mirabilio.

The days are gone when islanders like Clinton Gaskill, Lawton Howard and Fowler O'Neal were barefoot on the Community Store porch, sharing their stories and giving visitors a sense of traditional Ocracoke life.  In the 21st century, tourists could download an app that gives them a chance to see old photos, hear native speakers, and learn local history.

While many of the ideas proposed by the resource team are familiar to Ocracokers, having the report is an important step in documenting the need for funding, said County Commissioner Darlene Styron.

The resource team emphasized that the current document is a first draft, and seek public comment.  Copies are available at the Working Waterman's Exhibit on Jack's Dock.  Learn more about the program at saltwaterconnections.org.

The scenic byway represents a whole culture, said Amspacher.  "If the Outer Banks is a string of pearls, Ocracoke is the big pearl in the middle."  

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