To catch up on Ocracoke news and much more, click here
Update: Tram service to the lighthouse will begin as soon as the National Park Service installs signage, the Observer learned today (Monday, June 21). The original version of this story said tram service to the lighthouse would begin Monday, as was announced in a public meeting June 17.
By Peter Vankevich
Sometime after Monday, when passenger ferry service is scheduled to begin between Hatteras and Ocracoke, tram service on Ocracoke will add a stop during a trial period at the Ocracoke Lighthouse on Lighthouse Road.
A sparsely attended meeting Thursday at the Community Center gave islanders an opportunity to voice their opinions on this addition to the tram route, which is a free service that operates daily from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and stops at nine locations. The lighthouse would be the tenth.
After some discussion, there appeared to be a consensus that this addition be a trial run and to make adjustments as needed.
The tram route will stop at the lighthouse, then turn left onto Martha Jane Lane to Loop Road and back to Lighthouse Road. It will not pass Springer’s Point.
Hyde County manager Kris Cahoon Noble noted that she had received many inquiries as to why the tram wasn’t stopping at the lighthouse and that it should.
Fielding questions with Noble was Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent Dave Hallac of the National Park Service, which has jurisdiction over the lighthouse.
Ocracoke’s county commissioner Randal Mathews and Joseph Ramunni, who manages the tram operation, also spoke.
Hallac described the origins of the passenger ferry service — which has run for the past two summers — and the Park Service’s involvement and cooperation with the N.C. Ferry Division. From the beginning of this project, tram service was to be offered along with this new form of ferry service to shuttle the car-less ferry passengers throughout the village.
The trams, which make eight stops per loop around Ocracoke Village, are provided by Hyde County, with the funding support from the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board and the state.
The original route did not include stops at the lighthouse or Springer’s Point, both located in neighborhoods along Lighthouse and Loop roads.
Hallac said that the tram service should include a stop at the lighthouse, one of the Park Service’s most popular sites for visitors.
The NPS estimates approximately 100 people per hour visit the lighthouse between the hours of 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. and 500 to 1,000 people visit per day during the peak season, amounting to 400 vehicles/golf carts coming to the lighthouse each day.
A set of goals was published in advance to the meeting, primarily to decrease traffic congestion caused by the number of carts/cars on Lighthouse Road, which Noble reiterated at the beginning of the meeting.
Fletcher O’Neal, whose house is located close to the lighthouse, voiced his objections to the tram. He said he also spoke on behalf of his neighbors who couldn’t attend the meeting.
“There’s no room for it and there is enough confusion as it is,” he said.
Alice Faucette lives across from the lighthouse and wanted to know the plan for dropping off passengers. She noted that after the heavy rain like the island has been experiencing the past couple of weeks, the parking area becomes atrocious and dangerous with people slipping into the water.
“There was an accident there yesterday when a woman fell out onto the road,” she said. “I’m just amazed that they’re not more accidents.” She recently counted 13 golf carts in the limited parking area.
Hallac apologized for the parking lot’s bad condition and said that the Park Service would take steps to improve it.
Jerry Midgett, who lives nearby, suggested that there be no public parking, only parking for the tram and that would alleviate the parking confusion and road disruptions as vehicles attempt to both park and exit.
Ramunni said that he was confident that steps would be taken so that the tram would be completely off the road when stopping and would not cause traffic delays.
It was suggested that publicity about the lighthouse service could include a sign at the Park Service’s Visitor Center where people congregate to take the passenger ferry and the trams.
Another speaker suggested that the trams be identified with a sign on the two trams stating they are a free public service transportation.
Noble suggested it be named the “Ocracoke Express” tram in conjunction with the name of the passenger ferry.