CEDAR ISLAND, N.C. — Before you head for the beach, WRAL's Morning News is cruising the coast for a look at what is new and changing. Our latest stop is a ride aboard the state's No. 1 tourist attraction.
North Carolina's ferry system is the fifth largest attraction in the state. When it comes to tourism -- it is No. 1, according to state officials.
This year, the Ferry Division is the winner of the
Bill Sharpe Travel Award
, given annually to an individual or state agency that promotes or enhances the area.
After Hurricane Isabel cut off access to many coastal roads, ferries stepped in to help locals.
Every year, ferries along the North Carolina coast transport more than 1 million vehicles and more than 2.5 million people alogn seven routes.
The Ferry Division is a $19 million a year operation and tourists are its bread and butter. Highway 12 , however, is its adversary.
Highway 12 cuts through the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. When it gets washed away, it devastates the entire island.
Jerry Gaskill, the director of the state's ferry division, says the best solution is to nourish area beaches, that way the sand absorbs some of the wave energy.
"I'd like to see nourishment, I'd like to see the road stay where it is. I think it's the most sensible thing to do, but I'm not sure that's always what we do," he said.
"I think that is an initial approach that people will want to look at and that may be a good short-range alternative, but looking at the long range, we don't know," said a National Park Service ranger.
The National Park Service policy is not to nourish, with few exceptions. The service says nourishment removes natural beauty, is expensive and the sand will wash out in the next storm.
Ferry operators say they do not want to see the same thing happen to their business.
Our next stop: Wondering what Hurricane Isabel did to your favorite Outer Banks vacation spot? See how far cleanup efforts have come Thursday on WRAL's Morning News.