By Peter Vankevich
Getting around Ocracoke village and learning about the island’s fascinating history will be easy for people with smart phones and computer tablets now that Stefen Howard has developed Ocracoke Navigator.
Ocracoke Navigator is a free, interactive web application. Simply go to a search engine and type in Ocracoke Navigator.
“It’s like having an Ocracoke native in your pocket!” the promo states, and that’s not far from the truth.
Howard, a son of Philip Howard, is a ninth-generation Ocracoke native and a descendant of William Howard, the last colonial owner of Ocracoke Island. Stefen (pronounced as “Steven”) grew up on Ocracoke and graduated from the school in 1985. He earned a bachelor’s degree in art from Guilford College, Guilford County, and a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
A professor of computer science at Mars Hill University, near Asheville, Howard came up with the Navigator idea a few years ago when he noticed visitors carrying around computer tablets.
“I thought it would be great if there was something that would allow folks with smart phones and tablets to learn about island history,” he said. “It could also give them directions to all the important locations as well as shops and other businesses.”
So he went to work.
Ocracoke Navigator provides more than 200 interactive maps, extensive historical information, vintage and contemporary photographs and other information about the island.
Among the historical yarns are the site of the first automobile accident; when Charles Lindbergh (with no fanfare) landed on Ocracoke; the history of the Coast Guard Station; historic homes and buildings, and even information on Old Quawk, the hermit that one of the island creeks is named after.
“All my life on Ocracoke, I worked in the tourism industry including The Slushy Stand, Village Craftsmen and Over the Moon,” Howard said. “One of the most common questions locals get asked is, ‘How do I get to …’”
It may be a small island, but people still need to find their way, he noted.
“I also thought it would be a great way for visitors to access historical photographs, especially if they could find their way to a particular location and look at old photos and compare the old pictures to what it looks like now,” he said.
Development of this website was very much a family affair, with many of the stories narrated by Philip, Lou Ann Homan, and others in the Howard cohort.
Ocracoke Navigator includes two audio walking/biking/golf cart tours, “Around Creek” and “Down Point,” plus a kayak tour.