By Rita Thiel
Thanks to a partnership between the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, Ocracoke Community Park and the National Park Service, Ocracoke residents and visitors will have a new walking trail and attraction.
Work on a $300,000 project, Ocracoke Wetlands Preserve Nature Walk, traversing the marsh between the Community Park Ball field at the end of Maurice Ballance Road and Loop Shack Hill, is expected to begin in mid to late 2020.
When complete, the walkway will allow all to experience the delicate marsh environment and give more exposure to Loop Shack Hill.
After the Ocracoke Preservation Society donated a 24-acre tract of land adjacent to the ball field to the Land Trust in 2015, the trust and the Community Park board of directors immediately envisioned a raised walkway in this area.
Then, Ed Norvell, co-chair of the project’s capital campaign, suggested linking the walkway to the Loop Shack Hill area, an important piece of WWII history.
Loop Shack Hill is the site of a secret WWII exercise to train U.S. Navy Beach Jumpers. After it was declassified, the late Earl O’Neal Jr. obtained a memorial marker in 2009 on N.C. 12.
The NPS plans to construct a parking area across the road from the monument.
David E. Hallac, Cape Hatteras National Seashore superintendent, was on board at the outset, said Greg Honeycutt, project co-chair.
“I’m thrilled to be working with the Coastal Land Trust and Ocracoke community on this wonderful project,” Hallac said. “A coastal marsh trail that leads to Cape Hatteras Seashore lands will allow visitors to learn about the island’s rich WWII history.”
The NPS also will provide some interpretive signage.
The trust likes that the project will open this area for public use and environmental education.
“There is broad-based enthusiasm and public support as people realize what a valuable resource this area is,” said Lee Leidy, Land Trust Northeast Regional director. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”
The total project cost is approximately $300,000, and the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board in April granted the project $50,000 in seed money. The trust later asked the board for another $100,000 for future maintenance.
“Occupancy Tax monies are a vital resource for this project, as they will allow for somewhat of an endowment of reserve funds for maintenance and enhancement down the road,” Honeycutt said.
The remainder will be sought through private fundraising and grants. To date, about $45,000 has been pledged, he said.
The walkway material will be the same as that of the lifeguard beach walkway, requiring less maintenance in this saltwater environment and having minimal impact on the marsh.
Since the proposed location is included in the Areas of Environmental Concern set forth by the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, the Coastal Area Management Act regulations ensure protection of the delicate marsh.
“We don’t have the CAMA permit yet,” Leidy said. “We’d like all funding to be in place first before we apply for the necessary permits.”
Honeycutt noted islanders’ approval of the project.
“Getting the public involved as much as possible and making this a desired attraction on Ocracoke are important goals of the project,” he said.
Individuals and businesses can become sponsors of the benches and signage.
Campaign packets for cash, bench or sign sponsors are available by calling Honeycutt at 252-207-1305.