September 2013
By BJ Oelschlegel

I have spoken about the resources with which our community has to work. Some are not tangible but have a powerful effect on the quality of life on the island; others are obvious.

I see our natural setting, protected by The National Park Service, as a valuable asset. We can rest assured that our beach will generally look the same through the decades. How we get to use the beach may change, but development will not alter the face of such a perfect en­vironmental event. Born out of the natural setting, are the activities which involve the water and keep our guests coming back. This same envi­ronment has provided a way of life and a chance to make a living through fishing, which predates the tourist trade. The workings of a small fishing village are an attraction unto themselves.

Friendly people, and a laid-back attitude round out a pic­ture which produces a pas­sion in our visitors leading them to come back year af­ter year and causing tears as they depart on the ferry. This one statement of “Ocracoke being their favorite place in the whole world”, is the line I hear just about every time I speak to someone who wants to rent or buy property on the island.

After the planning board meeting in July, it was ap­parent that we are placing this passion in jeopardy. What I am hearing from my own customers at the The Slushy Stand, as well as from neigh­boring store owners, is that the village is losing this ap­peal, the historic and quaint feel of a fishing village. The guests have gone so far as to beg for something to be done about the changing face of Ocracoke.

Right after that somewhat contentious meeting in July, I heard an interview with a director of a documentary on sustainable living. He was speaking about sustain­able communities, such as the movement in Durham. I didn’t pick up on the details about Durham because I fix­ated on a statement he used: “Community is the secret ingredient of sustainability; without that sense of com­munity, it can’t exist.”

If you Google “sustainability,” you will find a simple definition: “the capacity to endure.”

One article talked about the ac­tions of today not having neg­ative effects for future gen­erations. Based on the current scuttlebutt around the number of signs and the occurrence of pop up businesses, I am hear­ing a desire for discussion with regards to our sense of community and the picture which we present.

It has been voiced to me that we are ru­ining the “goose that lays the golden egg”; there is a fear that it won’t take very many years before we see a drop off in the number of visitors be­cause we have lost our unique flavor.

The most visual of con­cerns was described to me as “the stadium effect.” The guy in the front row stands up to make himself heard; the guy behind him has to stand up just to see. Before you know it, everyone in that section is standing up to get what they came for–a chance to see.

In our situation, when one per­son puts out a sign or a sand­wich board, the next store owner might feel that putting out two signs will gain more attention. It doesn’t take long before the streets of the vil­lage become destinations for signs, flags and sandwich boards instead of the oppor­tunity for riders or people strolling to see the life on the island. Why would they come to Ocracoke, when we could just as easily go to their local big time beaches and witness that competi­tion for the dollar?

I think that it is a ques­tion of what we value in this community and that will re­quire a lot of lively discussion and hard work. Living on an island requires a degree of resiliency to weather storms, ferry troubles or delayed essential repairs.

The Ocracoke population is strong and har­dy. The folks who choose this way of life are creative, smart and resourceful. I have al­ways felt that no problem was insurmountable for this com­munity. We have had more than one occasion to band to­gether and make something happen. I clearly remember the village’s response to the surprise vote on a county oc­cupancy tax which was taken while our commissioner was in Miami at a hurricane con­ference.  We were quick, effec­tive and successful in mov­ing the proceeds of that levy from the county coffers to an island fund. My point is that we have the wherewithal to tackle anything.

People are talking among themselves. I have had locals stop me and tell me that they agree with the idea of trying to preserve our historic-vil­lage atmosphere. It was what drew them in the beginning. Now is the time for people to bring these opinions out into the open; to make sure that the powers that be hear the will of the people. This too is a problem that can be solved.

BJ Oelschlegel is a broker w/ Ocracoke’s Lightship Realty
….before we had a lighthouse, there was a lightship to light the way for mariners.


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