On an ordinary Tuesday evening in April, something quite extraordinary happened on Ocracoke.
The Ocracoke Community Park Committee announced that the island’s long dreamed-of green space dedicated to recreation is now a reality. To understand just how extraordinary an undertaking this is, one must consider the uniqueness of Ocracoke Island. The majority of the island is owned by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The village of Ocracoke comprises 963 acres of which 394 acres is marshland. Of the original 569 acres suitable for development, 450 acres have already been improved.
There are no tennis courts, ball fields or public playgrounds – the only recreational facility is the Ocracoke High School Gym. Back in the day, before the island was “discovered”, there was a ball field where the boat ramp is now located; many other ad hoc fields served the purpose until land became so scarce that all hopes of a real park were practically dashed. In addition, Ocracoke’s county-Hyde-is the second poorest in North Carolina and has no resources for recreational expenditures. And, yes, it is a real island.
When the Ocracoke Youth Center worked with the Hatteras Island Little League a few years ago to organize a local baseball team (now part of the Cal Ripkin Division, Hatteras Babe Ruth Little League), the fledgling group had no place to practice. Keith McDermott generously offered his lush green front lawn to the team. One of the coaches made a portable wooden mound to simulate real game settings, and distances between portable bases were paced off – left field was considerable shortened due to the presence of an ancient cedar tree in its midst. The kids have been playing their hearts out ever since… and winning.
Because of the joy generated by this small undertaking, a renewed interest in finding a suitable space large enough for baseball, soccer and other field sports was fueled by a group of parents and citizens who formed the Baseball Committee that subsequently joined forces with the Youth Center, a local 501(3) nonprofit established in 1995 to provide recreational support to island families. With the increasing number of school children living on the island, Ocracoke has enough youngsters to participate in team sports. These sports teach children about teamwork, competition, managing conflict, regional awareness, integrity, effective communication, problem solving and goal setting. The Committee also recognized the benefit to the community of environmental education programs with outdoor venues, summer programs, and even adult sport events. Together, the joint Ocracoke Community Park Committee, comprised of Bob Chestnut, David S. Esham, John Giagu, Bill Cole, Justin Leblanc, Tyler Gilbert, Greg Honeycutt, Garick Kalna, Vince O’Neal, Brian Samick, Melina Sutton and Bill Rich commenced an intense search.
Some bighearted local landowners offered their parcels, but none were large enough; the Ocracoke Community Cemetery Association also expressed interest in helping. Again, the available land proved to be unsuitable. National Seashore acreage remained out-of-bounds.
By 2012, Ocracoke’s “field of dreams” was finally found. The last piece of private land large enough to support the envisioned Ocracoke Community Park became within reach. The Burrus tract of a little over 5 acres had been subdivided with septic permits secured for 6 large homes. But the real estate market on Ocracoke deteriorated along with the rest of the U.S. and no lots were purchased. The Burrus owners were approached and a deal was negotiated for 100% owner financing at 3% interest with payments scheduled over a ten-year period. Nine months later, the last permit has been obtained. The new Ocracoke Community Park will have its sports field for baseball and soccer. It will also have a 2,400 square foot Activities Center for community and classroom events. After years of wishing and hoping and dreaming, it is happening.
On that same Tuesday night in April, the Ocracoke Community Park Committee introduced the proposed budget for this historic endeavor and the kick-off of the Capital Campaign to support it. There are donor opportunities ranging from naming the baseball or soccer field to name recognition at the Activities Center. Gifts can be structured over a 3 to 5 year pledge period; larger gifts ($50,000+) can be structured over a longer period. Specific and detailed budget and donor opportunities can be obtained from the Committee members. A website is being developed to provide easy access to all information.
In the words of Bob Chestnut, Board Chair, OYC: “Thank you in advance for your support and I hope that you’ll join us when it’s time to hear “PLAY BALL!” on Ocracoke.