Dave Hallac, superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Mike Barber, public affairs specialist officially open the Ocracoke Island Discovery Center on Ocracoke, NC. Photo: C. Leinbach
Dave Hallac, superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and Mike Barber, public affairs specialist officially open the Ocracoke Island Discovery Center. Photo: C. Leinbach

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Ocracoke Observer staff report

The National Park Service Visitor Center, managed by the NPS Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CAHA), has a new look and feel and on Tuesday it was officially renamed the Ocracoke Discovery Center.

Up until Hurricane Dorian, which struck in the island in September 2019, the center, at Irvin Garrish Highway and Pilot Town Road across from the soundside ferry docks, was a hub for those seeking off-road vehicle (ORV) permits, aka beach access permits and information. The center also included an Eastern National park store.

But the hurricane caused severe structural damage shutting the center down for an extended period while it underwent repair work and updated renovations.

Today, the center no longer issues the ORV permits in person because this is done solely online and the store has been closed.

An interactive exhibit. Photo: C. Leinbach

Now, the Discovery Center has a staffed information desk, some exhibits, a slideshow of historic photographs on a large-screen TV, a children’s activity corner and a touch-and-feel table that includes bone replicas of some of the wildlife found on Ocracoke. Some of these are 3-D models that can be handled, and two real items  —  a dolphin skull and a green turtle carapace – cannot be handled.

Permanent interactive exhibits and displays are being created and expected to be installed over the next two years, said David E. Hallac, superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

“We’re really trying to focus on this idea of barrier island ecology and dynamics,” Hallac said.

Photo: C. Leinbach

Other exhibits are expected to be changed periodically.

Although purchasing beach permits is online only, Hallac said those having trouble getting permits printed can come by and pick up a self-certification dashboard sign.

The Ocracoke Island Discovery Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m.

This summer the NPS is providing additional educational activities.

Those taking the passenger ferry to Ocracoke have an opportunity to hear a presentation by a park ranger on the island’s history and an overall introduction, said Matthew Hall, supervisor of interpretation.

Photo by the NPS

Outside of the center, NPS staff presents a series of interpretive programs on Ocracoke. Here is the schedule:

Stories of Ocracoke Island
Monday to Friday from 11 to 11:30 a.m. Learn about the location and legacy of Ocracoke Island. From serving as an early port village and primary point of entry to North Carolina to Blackbeard’s final battle, Ocracoke Island possesses a unique heritage resulting from its continued remote setting.

Shaping these barrier islands:
Monday to Friday from 2 to 2:30 p.m.  Wars, hurricanes, winds and ocean currents have all had impacts on the shores of Cape Hatteras.

War Comes to Ocracoke
Every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 4:30 p.m. Learn about the role Ocracoke Island and the Outer Banks have played in shaping our country’s conflicts.

Elsewhere on the island:

Ocracoke Island Lighthouse
Tuesday to Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit the lighthouse and discuss the details and history of this beautiful beacon. The base of the lighthouse will be staffed and open on dates and times listed above from June 2 through Aug. 13.

Banker Ponies
Every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 10 to 10:45 a.m. at the Pony Pen. Come meet the ponies who once roamed as a wild herd and learn about their living history on Ocracoke Island.

Explore the Shore
Every Wednesday from 9 to 9:45 a.m. Meet outside at the beach access parking area adjacent to the Ocracoke Campground. Take an easy beach walk with a ranger and learn about what calls the beach its home.

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