In this season of reflection and, we hope, tranquility, Ocracoke has a lot to be thankful for.
Despite the ongoing, global COVID-19 pandemic, Ocracoke has fared well as visitors continued to discover and rediscover the slower pace of living on this island lacking in many trappings of civilization and accessible only by ferry, private boat or plane.
Helena Stevens, executive director of the Ocracoke Tourism Development Authority, noted the banner year Ocracoke has had, especially after the recovery from Hurricane Dorian. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic that forced the cancellation of several major events in 2020 and earlier this year.
“COVID had a tremendous impact because tourists had a haven to come to and be outdoors,” she said, adding that she has heard that reservations and bookings for lodging next year are already strong.
As with last year, many island businesses prospered and with lodging so successful occupancy tax collections will benefit the island nonprofits.
In the two years since Hurricane Dorian flooded Ocracoke on Sept. 6, 2019, Ocracoke has showed its resilience.
Some businesses have closed or have been sold to new owners and new enterprises have started. Like birds on a barrier island, people come and go seasonally, some leave permanently switching to visitor status and new folks buy what may have been their dream home. On such a small island, all of this is noticeable.
Ocracoke, being what some of our wags have described as a sandbar off the eastern edge of the continent, has a lot of challenges ahead — notably how to shore up beach erosion; keep the island’s highway, N.C. 12, open; affordable housing; and keeping Ocracoke’s lifeline, the ferry system, sufficiently funded, adequately staffed and the channels sufficiently dredged.
In the fall, visitor numbers have traditionally dropped off, prompting many businesses and restaurants to cut back their hours or close until spring.
This year the number of visitors remained high, and by August many of the island’s workers were exhausted or left the island for school or to return to family, and Ocracoke, like so many other communities in the age of COVID, struggled to stay open.
These challenges continue to be front-and-center and we hope all islanders join in to help address them.