July 2013
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.



Previous articleOcrafolk Festival a Delight for All
Next articleSpotted on Ocracoke: A Snapping Turtle