Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Your Favorite Beach

Posted September 15, 2009 9:23 a.m. EDT
Updated September 15, 2009 9:54 a.m. EDT

What is your favorite coastal destination and why? What are your top five Tar Heel beach places? Please weigh in.

I love so much of this state from Manteo to Murphy but if I had to rank my favorite coastal haven it would probably be Ocracoke. It’s a place Jimmy Buffett would like – charming yet unpretentious – beautiful yet rugged and relaxed.   Anyone can feel at home in Ocracoke. The beaches are wide and wonderful. Silver Lake is the perfect setting for a summer day or really most any day of the year. Residents freely hang their wash out on clotheslines. Sunsets are magnificent. Sunrises are spectacular.

During a recent trip to Ocracoke I ran into an old friend. Alton Ballance’s ancestors helped settle Ocracoke more than 200 years ago. Alton is a distinguished author, teacher and community leader. I thought you would enjoy a conversation with this native Ocracoker.

1) What are the major issues and challenges facing Ocracoke today?

Several big challenges face Ocracoke today. First, since we are not an incorporated town (Hyde is one of only two counties in the state without incorporated towns), we must rely on county government for our services. Since the county seat and local government is in Swan Quarter and a 2 hour and 45 minute ferry ride away, there was always been a disconnect here. Several times throughout our history we have tried to become part of Dare County because of our common Outer Banks interests (as opposed to their farm-based economy, culture, etc.). Second--and somewhat related to the first--how do we handle the increasing need for services from the approximately one million visitors to our island. Third, because of this influx, as well as increasing second home development, there are ongoing environmental concerns, such as water quality, sewage, and traffic congestion. People love our village because of the low density development. We must try to maintain as much of this as possible or risk becoming too much like our neighbors to the north and south. If this happens, why travel all the way to Ocracoke? Other challenges include trying to provide water for this increasing development, as well as trash services, which have to be hauled off the island, and emergency services in such an isolated area. Finally, providing additional ferry service to meet the growing numbers of vehicles to the island is a concern, especially during these times of tight state budgets.

(2) How has Ocracoke changed in your lifetime and the lifetime of your ancestors on the island?

The main changes are the loss of wonderful Ocracokers who aged and died, leaving behind wonderful stories and a way of life that represented independence, interdependence, and resourcefullness. Some of this of course still exists, but they provided great life stories drawn from the intimate relationships with landscape and living through hard times.

(3) What adjectives best describe Ocracoke?

Intimate, relaxed, imaginative,

(4) What makes Ocracoke unique?

It's isolation, it's 775 acre village at the tailend of the nation's first national seashore, the fact that it has few chain businesses, and the independent minded residents (long and short time) and visitors.

(5) Is the so-called “high tide” dialect of Ocracoke still intact?

Very few long time residents still have this dialect, but it's always fun to be in a roomful of people talking about old times, with some of the old sayings and inflections flying around here and there!

(6) What will Ocracoke look like in 10 and 25 years?

More second home development as the economy improves, with some of the old buildings restored, but increasing higher density development around the harbor. Still, local efforts will continue, such as the recent one to save the fish house. These efforts will still keep Ocracoke alive as a community where people live, work, go to school, and enjoy village life like they always did.

(7) What attracts tourists to Ocracoke?
The beautiful beaches, small, circular village atmosphere without the clutter of chain businesses, the ferry rides, lighthouse, and small, family owned restaurants, shops, and hotels.

(8) What the best kept secret about Ocracoke?
Off season, even January and February.

(9) How would you describe the character of native Ocracokers?

Still, like their ancestors, independent, interdependent, resourceful, and creative.