This commentary was first published in the March 2019 Ocracoke Observer.
By Peter Vankevich
Here are some of the highlights of the last few months on Ocracoke.
Winter on a remote coastal island can have its challenges, especially when it comes to weather. But unlike last year, when the island sustained a prolonged freeze, the island was relatively calm with a few December storm systems that caused some over wash on the highway beyond the pony pasture.
The 35-day federal government shutdown that began on Dec. 22 caused relatively little disruptions compared to a lot of other locations. The furlough affected about six National Park Service employees. Law enforcement officers were on duty (albeit without pay) and Ocracoke did not suffer vandalism and destruction that occurred at national parks elsewhere. It was possible to drive on the beach with a legal permit which were available online during the shutdown.
The 13th annual Oyster Roast on Dec. 29 drew a line that stretched past the Jolly Roger restaurant. The Ocracoke Working Watermen Association puts on the roast each year as a fundraiser and community thank-you.
What a difference a New Year’s Day makes. About 45 kids and adults participated in Ocracoke’s version of the Polar Plunge at the airport beach. With temperatures in the upper 60s and an ocean temperature of about 58 degrees, it was a perfect day for a dip in the ocean. Last year’s dangerous 20-degree weather canceled this informal event.
The Ocracoke Preservation Society Sixth Annual “Ocracoke Through Your Eyes” Art Auction on Jan. 26 raised more than $6,000.
The Cedar Island community thanked Ocracoke for its help after Hurricane Florence with a free pig pickin’ barbecue at the Native Seafood parking lot on Feb. 10.
Ocracoke Dolphins boys’ varsity team won their Atlantic 5 1A Conference with a 11-1 record, but they lost 58-56 in the first round of the state championship playoffs. For the first time in many years, there were not enough student-athletes for field a varsity Lady Dolphins team but both boys and girls middle-school teams were the best in their conferences and the boys’ JV team got better after each game. The Dolphin basketball future looks bright.
Ocracoke United Methodist Church Pastor Richard L. Bryant will move on sometime this summer. His service here began in the summer of 2014 when he replaced Pastor Laura Stern. Methodists tend to move on to another church after about four years.
In January, James (Little Brother) Topping and Michael (Shannon) Swindell were sworn in as new county commissioners. County commissioners must reside in the township they wish to represent and all registered voters in the county vote for the candidates. County commissioners have a lot of clout when it comes to matters affecting Ocracoke since it is the only local-level government. The Ocracoke commissioner seat will be up for election in 2020. No word yet as to current commissioner, Tom Pahl, will seek reelection.
Ocracoke has two new reps in Raleigh. Bob Steinburg for the District 1 Senate seat and Bobby Hanig for House District 3. Both are Republicans and have said they plan on visiting Ocracoke soon to meet the islanders and hear their concerns.
At the national level, Ocracoke lost its long-serving House representative Walter B. Jones Jr. who, after a prolonged illness, died on Feb. 10. He represented Ocracoke since 1995. Jones was a faithful representative to his constituents, a social conservative and not afraid to break ranks with his Republican party, especially over war and legislation that would add to the deficit. Those candidates wishing to replace him should be asked if they will have his courage and willingness to vote their conscience–what’s best for their constituents–and not just the party line. An election for this seat is scheduled for July 9.
Joining the already numerous raccoons in the village are opossums. This is the only species of marsupial that is native to the United States. Many villagers have reported seeing more in the past several months. Readily available food and water left outside overnight will only lead to increases of both species.
Birds: Duck hunting guides have noted the high numbers of Redhead and Northern Pintail Ducks in the Pamlico Sound. The Ocracoke Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 30 estimated 5,000 Redheads and 2,000 Pintails. A total of 80 species were tallied that day on the island and surrounding waters. Other species present in good numbers were Buffleheads, Brant, Red-throated Loons, Lesser black-backed Gulls and several days later, a brief glimpse of a rare Western Kingbird.