By Samara Skinner
Springer’s Point is a 122 acre tract of land owned by NC Coastal Land Trust located on Ocracoke Island. The area is a nature preserve focusing on the protection of the conservation values of the property, while allowing passive recreation and low impact public enjoyment of the area.
Though everyone may come to the island through different happenstances, no one forgets their first experiences on Ocracoke. From age six I remember the smell of honeysuckle on bike rides past the lighthouse, the oyster-shell driveway at the summit of Loop Road, and the sandy trail next to the camper that I played make-believe on when no one was watching. Back then – before the land trust set Springer’s Point up as a nature preserve – it was just a pretty piece of land I happened to live by, but now as I begin to wander through my adult life, I have been drawn back to that place.
Len Skinner, otherwise characterized as my father, is the caretaker. Among other things, he maintains the trail on a daily basis, creates informational signs, and manages the opening and closing of the nature preserve to the public. In addition to Len’s conservation efforts at Springer’s, he tends the historic Emma and Simon O’Neal house (built circa 1900), paints signs for local businesses as seen at Thai Moon and the Flying Melon Café, and builds constructions like the fig leaf bar area at Back Porch restaurant. Since I have walked the trail at Springer’s Point countless times, both with my father and alone, I wish to offer you the reader the same experience.
When you arrive at the entrance to the trail you can see an owl carved atop a stump. Similar tree statues created by Len can be seen around the island: two examples being the shoal of fish carved into a tree outside of the Anchorage Inn and the dolphin mascot made from mottled Ocracoke wood at the school.
As you start to walk along the Springer’s Point path, you begin to be enveloped in foliage: Wild high bush blueberries, planted mulberry and fig trees, and the original red honeysuckle that was home in this country long before the yellow variety was brought from overseas. Wooden signposts have been erected in places that mark and describe vegetation including wax myrtle, black needle rush, and yaupon. In a fenced off area on the right of the trail, the Georgia sun rose, a highly endangered flora that rarely blooms, rests in the sand among prickly island cacti.
You come to a clearing under the forest canopy where a large tree hosts a bird feeder. A raccoon is perched on a stump – another of Len’s creations – in commemoration of a raccoon who had lived nearby in a bird house intended for great horned owls who had decidedly built their nest elsewhere. A bench waits for weary travelers to sit and listen to the rush of leaves. When the wind blows, the trees seem to be interacting with one another, conversing on a telepathic level, exchanging the mysteries of life above your head while below their trunks twist at unusual angles.
The path separates into a loop, and at the point of division rests a small cemetery. Here Sam Jones, an old proprietor of the island, is buried next to his horse, Ikey D. There is a small cement statue brought in by the caretaker as a grave marker for the horse. A tombstone for Sam is also nestled within the ivy, marking where he was laid to rest, buried at an angle because he wanted to be vertically placed within the ground, a wish that couldn’t be fully achieved due to underground water residing so close to the surface.
In your first view of the sound, if you’ve chosen the left path, you can see the signs of the conservation area. Island environmentalists have implemented a shoreline restoration project by planting marsh grass and introducing bags designed to attract oyster spat, or young, to colonize a living reef.
Then the trail deposits you on a quaint beach, wrapping the sound in a small semi-circle. A rock peninsula, the veritable “point” of Springer’s Point, juts out at one side of the sandy cove. Warm water, dogs wading in the tranquil surf, children mesmerized by crabs that scuttle across the ocean floor. The horizon is full of gentle sea and the sun making its slow descent toward the earth.
Please remember, there is no accessible parking at Springer’s Point. Bikes may be left at the designated area at the trailhead. The path is only available for foot traffic and the wandering soul, so this is not the place to bring an expanse of coolers, beach chairs, or other incumbent seaside gear. Springer’s Point is a meditation of island life, a reflection of serenity. Bring your sandals, your senses, your canine companion if you wish, and walk into nature.