By BJ Oelschlegel
I was scooping ice cream for a family (my other job) and as they proceeded to pay, the dad made a comment about the incredibly long amount of time the ferry took to get over to the island. “It took forever to get down here.”
I ventured that the ferry ride had been a 40-minute route and now, with the new channel, it was a 60-minute trip. “The difference is only 20 minutes, sir.”
“Wow! Really?” was his response. When I reframed the time span, he countered with amazement.
I took from what he was saying that this day trip was a yearly event during their Nags Head vacation. He was familiar with the two-hour travel time but that last 20 minutes really colored the entire excursion for him. If he had traveled the route as many times as we each have, he would have been familiar with this minor shift in travel time. I think he had an expectation that this was going to be a rough ride and sure enough, it unfolded as he had anticipated.
It seems apparent that the amount of press about the various hurdles we have had to traverse is taking its toll. The media has had sooooo much to write about; if it wasn’t the ocean washing over the “S” curve, it was the channel filling in, the long wait to come over or the wind picking up to stop a ferry run. The residual effect of so many reports is lingering longer than reality calls for.
It’s easy for the negative press to hang around. Our island environment lends itself to exaggerated images. One has to live here to know the truth. We all have family members calling with the first mention of a storm on the Weather Channel. The words “hurricane on The Outer Banks” automatically conger up, for the land lubber, adjectives like “blown away,” “cut off,” “demolished,” “stranded.”
So often these pictures are far from the truth. I tell my prospective buyers that the island sits in a much better position because the water washes in, over and out. The hardest part is the prepping and then the waiting. Experience is a great teacher and never having lived through a storm leaves a void to be filled by wild mental pictures.
It is hard to convince the general public that we are safe and sound. They might have an easier time of believing it with the press releases put out by an online newspaper. The message gets convoluted due to an aspect out of our control. It is so darn profitable to dramatize the weather events; the livelihood of the media is based on this drama. Remember when the grocery store in Hatteras had a marquee which gave Jim Cantori an Emmy for “Best Dramatic Performance” after Hurricane Irene (2011)?
We also have the additional burden of so many events. It was like we had no recovery period; those damaging waves of events just kept slamming us, one after another. And yet, we are not totally out of the woods. The old channel is open again but not wide enough for two ferries to pass, therefore slowing the shuttling of cars from Hatteras to Ocracoke and back again. That channel could be seen as the gift that just keeps giving.
So, what is the solution? As with every other aspect of village life, it looks like the burden of shifting the public’s perception will fall on the community. This society is so resourceful. For a population of less than 1,000, we pack a lot of power; there are lots of good minds and industrious people.
After speaking with the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association’s new part time Ocracoke Travel and Tourism Director, Sundae Horn, some ideas stand out. She is building her rapport with the point person known as the communications director for the DOT. Sundae spoke about a ferry which broke down canceling four out of a day’s 64 runs. The DOT website put out the story about “runs being cancelled” and the next thing she knows, the story is picked up by the Raleigh, Charlotte and Greenville newspapers talking about ferry runs being cancelled to Ocracoke; not two hours worth of runs but something more general. Imagine having a trip scheduled to the island. Would your reaction be to question the DOT? Would you really grasp the nuance of four vs a day’s worth of runs?
As part of a much larger county structure, I asked our county manager, Bill Rich, if the role of the Hyde County public information officer could be expanded. Keeping the county residents informed is very beneficial. Putting out the truth to a wider audience about these access issues could prove to be invaluable for the county. His response was very positive and it sounds like that can be done.
In researching this article, I became aware of two groups, The Civic & Business Association and The Occupancy Tax Board, which are each taking on the project of advertising the island and responding with press releases after a weather event. It makes sense to bring those groups together to consolidate the power of the dollar and the energy of the folks involved. There should be one wheel when it comes to this topic; there is no need to reinvent anything.
We are seeing the drastic effects of the access issues plus the residual effect of not nipping the negative stuff in the bud. After speaking with representatives from each group, I am hearing that there is a consensus on the need to merge subcommittees from each organization and a need to work together to muster the creative juices in the community.
We have what it takes. The path is clear and we know how to get there.
BJ Oelschlegel is a Broker with Ocracoke’s Lightship Realty
…..before there was a lighthouse, we had a lightship to light the way for mariners.