Traditions, history run deep in OBX island

Posted June 10, 2011 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated June 15, 2011 7:34 a.m. EDT

Harkers Island

— Harkers Island sits so far east in North Carolina that some locals say they get their TV shows two days late. But times are changing in this Outer Banks outpost, where history and traditions run deep.

Once a tiny village, Harkers Island has more than 1,500 residents and is still growing.

"All these houses built here, they didn't used to be here," said Harkers Island native Frankie Belcher.

"It used to be better, really," said Curt Salter, who has lived on the island all his life. "There wasn't as many people around, wasn't as many laws and rules and regulations as you got now."

Salter makes his living carving hunters' decoys. An art form born from an old hunter's necessity, his hand-carved decoys can sell for hundreds of dollars.

Harkers Island is also known for another art form: boat building by hand.

"There ain't too many people that does it this way," boat builder A.J. Willis said.

Building boats by hand is a skill that runs deep in his DNA.

"I'm a fourth-generation boat builder in my family. There's my dad, my granddad and Brady Lewis, my great-granddad," Willis said.

Each boat he makes is crafted with lessons his family learned over the last 100 years.

"A lot of everything – blood, sweat, tears," Willis said.

For tourists, Harkers Island is often just the last stop before Cape Lookout.

Natives like Salter, though, know the island is a way of life.

"I get up on vacation every morning, go out in the back yard," Salter said. "For me, that's good enough."

This story is part of WRAL's summer travel series, "Nooks and Crannies," which airs every Friday in WRAL's News at 5:30 p.m.