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Low pressure system to bring high winds on Tuesday, possible ferry disruptions–updated

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All ferries arriving and departing Ocracoke are currently suspended due to high winds, per NC Ferry Division, Nov. 8, 8:30 a.m.

Updated Nov. 7, 2022. 8 p.m.

Beginning tomorrow morning, the National Weather Service’s Newport/Morehead City Weather Forecast Office expects strong northeast to east winds to develop due to high pressure anchored over New England and Subtropical Storm Nicole which is forecast to impact the east coast of Florida before traveling up the southeast coast later this week.

Potential impacts from tomorrow through Wednesday include 25-35 mph sustained winds with gusts up to 50 mph, minor to moderate flooding along all ocean-side Seashore beaches and significant beach erosion.

Ferry service could be disrupted due to the high winds and the NC Ferry Division gave a heads-up that routes could be temporarily suspended later this week, due to the Subtropical Storm Nicole forecast to impact North Carolina from Thursday into Saturday. Updates on suspensions and schedule changes can be found on Twitter :@NCDOT_Ferry and its Facebook page.

Travel along N.C. Highway 12 may be challenging due to ocean overwash and beach erosion. Additional impacts associated with Subtropical Storm Nicole will become clearer in the coming days as forecast confidence grows.

Visitors to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore should use caution this week on all ocean-side Seashore beaches.

Four boats ring in the holiday season

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The Farris O’Neal family joined in the Holiday Boat Parade Nov. 26 in their decked out Cap’n B. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Connie Leinbach

A postponement of the Holiday Boat Parade from Friday to Saturday didn’t stop the four boats who said they’d participate from circling Silver Lake at sundown on Ocracoke Island.

This number was up from last year when Chris Farr and his family of Columbia, South Carolina, was the only boat for what is becoming a Thanksgiving weekend tradition.

This year and last, the parades were postponed from the night before.

So, Sundae Horn, who organized the event, was happy that the four boats that said they’d participate were able to do so.

The Farrs were joined by the Windfall II, helmed by Rob Temple, the Cap’n B charter boat, piloted by Farris O’Neal, and Seth Huppert in his skiff.

“Merry Christmas!” Huppert would yell to the spectators on the Community Square dock as he passed by. His boat also played some holiday tunes.

This was the third time that Chris and Brynley Farr and their three boys, ages 3, 6 and 8, spent Thanksgiving on Ocracoke and participated in the parade.

Seth Huppert’s boat is at right and the Windfall II is at left. Photo by Sally Green

“We decided seven years ago that we wanted to do something for Thanksgiving that was just our family,” Chris said as he tied up his boat.

So, they bought a catboat, a small sailboat, and went to Charleston, South Carolina, for three years, and then went to Minnesott Beach.

“We kept getting further and further away from home,” he said. They discovered Ocracoke after reading a sailing blog, “The Log of Spartina,” by Steve Early.

So, they began coming to Ocracoke for Thanksgiving week.

While they rent a house on Howard Street, the boys and Chris like to sleep on the boat some nights.

Horn said Farr reprised his one-boat parade Friday night and encouraged spectators to return Saturday night.

“I love keeping the boat parade tradition going,” she said.

The event is not sponsored by a group. She and the late Teresa O’Neal worked together several years ago to revive it.

The Farr family boat. Photo: C. Leinbach

“I’ll keep doing it in her memory,” Horn said. “She was so good at community spirit.”

O’Neal, 60, died in April after a long battle with cancer.

Horn would love to see more boats join in the merriment. In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic,12 boats participated.

“If anyone has any suggestions for how to encourage more boat captains to join in, please let me know,” she said. “Everyone who does it says they enjoy it. I know the spectators are excited to see the boats and many others watch on Facebook. Thanks to all who participated this year.”

Next year, she hopes to revive having hot chocolate and treats at the dock.

Earlier in the day for Small Business Saturday, 17 local artisans and businesses showcased their wares inside the Berkley Barn for the Holiday Gift Market, sponsored by the Ocracoke Civic & Business Association.

The OCBA’s holiday lights competition, Island Celebration, will be Dec. 17. Those who want their houses to be judged should have their lights set by dark.

Despite a bit of rain in the morning, Native Seafood held its oyster tasting Friday afternoon (Nov. 25). Raw oysters were available from Ocracoke, Hatteras and Swan Quarter, said Stevie Wilson as he shucked his locally raised O’cock oysters, and steamed oysters came from Cedar Island.

Owner Susie Scott O’Neal was pleased with the turnout and hopes to do it again next year.

Port and starboard mast lights on the dredge ‘Lexington’ looks like Christmas decor. Photo by Brenda Kremser
The Holiday Gift Market in the Berkley Barn Nov. 26. Photo: C. Leinbach
Oyster tasting Nov. 25 at Native Seafood. Photo: C. Leinbach

Runners trot on turkey day on Ocracoke

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Alex Weber, 17, of Durham, wins the 2022 Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Connie Leinbach

Angie Todd was amazed that the 5K Turkey Trot crowd on Thanksgiving morning exceeded her expectations.

“When we started this eight years ago, it began as a whim and we had about 30 people,” she told the crowd of 143 runners and walkers at the starting point at 1718 Brewing Ocracoke. “This year, our eighth year, we sold out.”

That was 175 who registered, she said, the most ever, but 10 didn’t show up and 23 did the race virtually, leaving 143 who crossed the finish line, according to the website of Run The East, a firm that conducts the race.

Todd, who is a world-class marathon runner and race director for the Scallywag 5K/10K/half-marathon (scheduled for April 29 & 30), said she hopes to boost the total who can register next year.

Alex Weber, 17, of Durham, bested the pack with a time of 18:42.

A member of his high school’s cross country team, he noted that he came in second overall last year.

First-timer to Ocracoke Kris Fox, 44, of Cincinnati, Ohio, wasn’t far behind and came in second at 18:47, and Ocracoke Islander Gerardo Dominguez, 32, came in third at 19:12.

Dominguez was happy with his time since he beat his time last year of 19:30, and he noted a number of young people giving him competition. Such as, Carter O’Neal, 15, of Ocracoke, whose time was 21:51.

Rachel Nerenbaum, 28, no city listed, was the top female overall with a time of 22:43.

As the Catto family cooled down from their run, one member, Olya, noted that family gathers on the island from Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. This was the fourth time the group ran together in this race before the holiday meal at the home of Joellen Catto on Trent Road.

“It’s now part of our family tradition,” noted James Catto.

All participants received a medal and overall and in age categories winners received homemade pies.

Proceeds of the race will go to a fund to replace the floor in the Ocracoke School gym.

From massive flooding from Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, the school was destroyed and is in the process of being rebuilt.

While there’s an acceptable floor in place in the school gym, it is far from perfect, and the school wants to replace it, said Todd, who also is Hyde County Board of Education chair.

Angie Todd, in turkey hat, welcomes runners in the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot. Photo: C. Leinbach
Gerardo Dominguez of Ocracoke comes in third in the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot. Photo: C. Leinbach

N.C. State to present disaster recovery information hub findings Dec. 1

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This past spring, researchers from N.C. State’s Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management gathered insight from Ocracoke community members related to developing a virtual information hub for disaster recovery efforts.

This virtual information hub could help Ocracoke and other coastal communities better respond to future disasters and crises such as hurricanes and pandemics. 

Ann Savage and Dr. Whitney Knollenberg will host a public presentation of the findings from this work at 4:30 p.m. Thursday Dec. 1, in the Ocracoke Community Center.

The one-hour presentation will be held at the Ocracoke Community Center and light refreshments will be served. If you would like to attend, please RSVP to Knollenberg, whitney_knollenberg@ncsu.edu, by Tuesday, Nov. 29. 

Shoaling near Ocracoke alters Pamlico Sound ferry schedules 

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A Pamlico Sound ferry on approach to Ocracoke Island. Photo: C. Leinbach

From our news services

As of today (Nov. 21) the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Ferry Division will run an alternate schedule on Pamlico Sound between Cedar Island, Swan Quarter and Ocracoke due to critical shoaling issues in the ferry channel just outside of Ocracoke’s Silver Lake Harbor.

The schedule, effective immediately, is as follows:

  • Ocracoke to Cedar Island:  7:30 a.m., 1 p.m.
  • Cedar Island to Ocracoke: 10:30 a.m., 4:30 p.m.
  • Ocracoke to Swan Quarter: 7 a.m., 1:30 p.m.
  • Swan Quarter to Ocracoke: 10 a.m., 4:30 p.m.

Shoaling occurs when sand and sediment fill into a ferry channel, making water depths too shallow for safe operation of the ferry system’s largest vessels. 

The Army Corps of Engineers’ contractor Cottrell Dredging is using the Dredge Lexington in the Bigfoot Slough channel to clear the shoaling. The dredging operation is expected to take about 50 days, depending on weather and sea conditions.

Once water depths in the ferry channel return to acceptable levels, the Ferry Division will resume its regular schedule on both routes.

For up-to-the-minute information on schedule changes on the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter routes, please follow @NCFerryPamSound​ on Twitter. 

Ocracoke events week of Nov. 21 to 27

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See story about Thanksgiving week events here.

Even dogs like the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day.

Wednesday, Nov. 23
Thanksgiving Bake Sale, 1 pm. Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department. Proceeds will benefit the Ocracoke United Methodist Church piano fund. Those who wish to bake a cake, pie or dessert, please feel free to drop them off at the fire department between 11 am and noon.

Thursday, Nov. 24
Ocracoke Island’s Thanksgiving Eighth Annual 5K Turkey Trot will begin at 8 a.m., at 1718 Brewing Ocracoke. Registration will end at 11:59 pm Tuesday, Nov. 22. All proceeds will be donated to a fund to replace the Ocracoke School gym floor.

Friday, Nov. 25
Native Seafood will hold an oyster tasting event from noon to 4 p.m. in the parking lot of their store along Irving Garrish Highway.

Holiday Gift Market 2021.

Celebration of Life for Jim Wynn, 2 pm, Berkley Barn.

The Holiday Boat Parade will be at 5:30 p.m.on Silver Lake. This isn’t sponsored by any organization, and it doesn’t spend any money. There are no prizes. It’s just for fun.

Saturday, Nov. 26
The Ocracoke Civic & Business Association hosts a Holiday Gift Market from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Berkley Barn.

Ocracoke Oyster Company: Martin & Friends, 7 pm.

A mighty mariner: The Great Shearwater

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Great Shearwater. Photo by Kate Sutherland

By Peter Vankevich

When you talk about amazing animals, consider adding the Great Shearwater to the mix. They can fly between waves of 40 feet or higher in hurricane-like weather.

Large seabirds — 20 inches in length with a 3.5- to 4-foot wingspan – they get their name from their ability to navigate between swells, seemingly cutting, or “shearing,” the water.

The Great Shearwater feeds primarily on fish such as mackerel, sand lance, and capelin, also squid and crustaceans that swim near surface of the water. They forage by catching prey from the surface and by plunge-diving, sometimes as deep as 55 feet.
Possessing an extraordinary sense of smell, they will follow trawlers, sometimes in considerable numbers, awaiting cast off fish offal.
They have a piercing “eeyah” cry usually given when resting in groups on the water.

In the early 19th Century, John James Audubon portrayed this species as the Wandering Shearwater, another apt name.

Many aspects of the biology of these seagoing birds remain a mystery. The average longevity is not very well known, with some estimates are at seven years. But one individual was believed to be more than 50 years old —gaining the status of an ancient mariner.

In the early 19th Century, John James Audubon portrayed this species (Ardenna gravis) as the Wandering Shearwater, another apt name.

Worldwide there are 32 shearwater species with five species that can be seen in the Gulf Stream waters off North Carolina The state’s other regularly occurring species are Audubon’s Shearwater, Cory’s Shearwater, Manx Shearwater and Sooty Shearwater. Two others, the Wedge-tailed Shearwater, and Cape Verde Shearwater, are extremely rare with just one documented record each.

Numbers and frequency of sightings of sea birds off North Carolina primarily rely on data gathered by Brian Patteson who has been running pelagic birding field trips since 1986. His business, Seabirding, runs these trips out of Hatteras to the Gulf Stream. Great Shearwaters may be seen from June to early November with the highest numbers from late July through August.

Based on time of the year, strong easterly wind conditions and available prey, it is possible to see these shearwaters from the shores of the Outer Banks, with three hot spots: Jeanette’s Pier in Nags Head, Oregon Inlet and Cape Point on Hatteras Island.

Unlike the other shearwater species in our waters, Great Shearwaters are subject to mass mortalities as what occurred in late June into early July this year. The Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout National Seashores confirmed seeing many dead or dying individuals on the beach. The Wilmington Star News reported a remarkably high number of shearwaters picked up from the beaches of Brunswick County and brought to the Sea Biscuit Wildlife Shelter, a wild bird rehabilitation center located on Oak Island.

Great Shearwater stranded on Ocracoke, Oct. 1, 2022. Photo by Peter Vankevich

Staff of the NC Wildlife Resource Commission gathered about 100 dead birds and sent them to Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS). A final report has not been released,.

These high mortalities occurred around the time of some sustained bad weather with tumultuous seas.

Die-offs like this may be from an avian disease or consuming toxins, but often the cause is starvation due to food shortages or an inability to forage, according to a study by North Carolina biologist David S. Lee in 2014.

The National Park Service did not perform any necropsies to determine the cause of death but did confirm that many of them appeared to be younger birds, looking thin and were lethargic.

“While we don’t know the exact cause of the shearwaters washing ashore in June, we do know that natural variables, such as weather and food shortages, play a large role in their survival,” an official wrote.

Kate Sutherland, Patteson’s lead guide and record keeper, has been working with Seabirding since 2001. Not only is she an expert on Atlantic seabirds, she is also a superb photographer.

She agrees with the starvation theory. “We are one of the first places they can feed during migration, and they are on the brink of starvation,” noting how hungry they appear on their arrival.

“Mortality in the first year is high as with most species. But some years the weather brings them to our beaches instead of keeping them at sea,” she wrote. “I imagine there are other factors that could be exacerbating their death rate as seas warm and weather changes, plus plastic…there is so much more every year and that has to impact them if they are ingesting it on their journey.”

Sutherland noted the vivacity of these birds.

“They are one of the most charismatic followers on our trips because they come right to the boat to eat the chum, diving and calling and fighting!”

As sad as this is to see, such kill-offs do not impact the overall world population. According to Cornell University’s Birds of the World, it is estimated that there may be as many as 15 million individuals.

Great Shearwater. Photo by Kate Sutherland

Tristan da Cunha archipelago

After roaming throughout much of the northeastern Atlantic Ocean as far north to Newfoundland, they head to the southwestern coasts of Great Britain and Ireland. In September, they begin their southern migration to their nesting grounds, one of the remotest places in the world.

Aside from a small nesting colony on Kidney Island in the Falklands, the other known breeding locations are on the volcanic Tristan da Cunha archipelago smack in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean and 6,500 miles from North Carolina. It is a British Overseas Territory that also has nesting Northern Rockhopper Penguins, Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, Sooty Albatrosses, Atlantic Petrels, Great-winged Petrels, Soft-plumaged Petrels, Broad-billed Prions, Grey Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, Tristan skuas, Antarctic Terns and Brown Noddies.

 Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons,

The Great Shearwater numbers are staggering, with 5 million breeding pairs on the largest island, Tristan da Cunha, followed by Nightingale Island with 2 to 3 million pairs, two million on Inaccessible Island and the distant Gough Island has estimates of up to 3 million pairs.

Shearwaters nest in crevices between rocks or a three-foot deep burrow, excavated by both parents, that may be used for several years and lay just one egg. Incubation takes approximately two months and both parents participate in feeding, returning only in the dark to avoid one of their diurnal predators, South Polar Skuas. Fledging takes nearly four months.

How remote are these islands? There are no airstrips, so the only way of travelling to them is by boat. The fastest is a six-day trip from South Africa. Only 250 people live on the biggest island, Tristan da Cunha. The rest are uninhabited.

Notes

If you thumb through an older bird field guide, you will not find the Great Shearwater. In 2010, the American Ornithologists’ Union changed the common name of Greater Shearwater to Great Shearwater, matching the common name used in Europe, and making more “sense”, as there is no “Lesser Shearwater,” though there is a Little Shearwater.

Not surprisingly, aside from the mass mortalities described above, necropsies performed on these shearwaters and other pelagic birds are finding high levels of plastic ingestion.

The Stellwagen Bank, located off the Massachusetts coast between Cape Cod and Cape Ann, is a National Marine Sanctuary managed by NOAA and where Great Shearwaters congregate in large numbers in late Summer.

Since 2013, researchers there have been using satellite technology to study their movements, life cycle, and feeding and foraging habits.

In 2021, state-of-the-art transmitters, small, lightweight, and equipped with mini solar panels were attached to 15 birds to track the birds’ migratory paths into the South Atlantic. You can follow their movements here:  https://twitter.com/trackseabirds or by the Twitter handle @trackseabirds.

Great Shearwaters were chosen for this tracking project because they are considered to be excellent indicators of ecosystem health and may provide insights into impacts of climate change.

Great Shearwaters can congregate in great numbers well offshore of North Carolina. Photo by Kate Sutherland

Public comment period opens on draft offshore wind areas

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The eight draft offshore wind energy areas cover about 1.7 million acres off North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. Map: BOEM

Posted by Coastal Review Online Nov. 16, 2022. Reposted by permission

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Wednesday announced that a 30-day public comment period has begun on eight draft offshore wind energy areas, including off the North Carolina coast. 

BOEM said it will hold virtual public meetings to engage the fishing community and environmental organizations to gather more information on the proposed areas and discuss next steps.

The proposed areas cover about 1.7 million acres off North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. The distances to their closest points range from about 19 to 77 nautical miles offshore.

“As BOEM moves forward to identify wind energy areas in the central Atlantic, we continue to prioritize a robust and transparent process, including early engagement with Tribal governments, state and federal agencies and ocean users,” said BOEM Director Amanda Lefton in a statement. “We want to gather as much information and traditional knowledge as possible to help us identify Wind Energy Areas — the offshore areas that are most suitable for commercial wind energy activities while having the fewest apparent environmental and user conflicts.”

Environmental and energy advocates praised the announcement.

“Today’s announcement lays the groundwork for additional offshore wind development in the Atlantic, which will help lower energy costs, create jobs, and fight climate change. Unlike dirty and dangerous offshore drilling that pollutes our waters, worsens the climate crisis, and harms frontline communities, offshore wind can support a just and equitable transition away from the fossil fuels that are driving the climate crisis,” said Oceana Campaign Director Diane Hoskins in a statement.

“With growing offshore wind opportunities, the states along the Central Atlantic coast have a chance to become part of the next wave of offshore wind hubs. While these states will clearly benefit tremendously from jobs and investment associated with offshore wind development, the benefits will stretch across our nation,” said National Ocean Industries Association President Erik Milito in a statement.

Federal officials said the process to identify the potential offshore locations considered areas that appear most suitable for renewable energy development.

BOEM said it collaborated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science to use an ocean planning model that seeks to minimize conflicts.

The eight areas were carved out of the original 3.9 million acres that the Department of the Interior announced for public comment in April. Officials said the final areas may be further changed based on feedback from government partners, ocean users and stakeholders.

BOEM seeks comment on potential conflicts, including with a potential U.S. Coast Guard “fairway” for transiting vessels, commercial fishing, a NASA danger zone, and marine habitat areas.

BOEM said it intends to further explore the areas with the Department of Defense, Coast Guard, NASA and other ocean users, such as the fishing industry, to collect additional information that should be considered before finalizing the wind energy areas.

Meetings have been set for the following dates:

To comment on the draft wind energy areas, visit regulations.gov and search for docket number BOEM-2022-0072. BOEM will accept comments through 11:59 p.m. Dec. 16.

For more information visit https://www.boem.gov/renewable-energy/state-activities/central-atlantic.

Ocracoke ponies available for ‘adoption’

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Photo: P. Vankevich

From our news services

Legend has it the Ocracoke Banker ponies arrived in the Outer Banks with shipwrecked explorers in the 16th or 17th century, and they’ve called the Ocracoke Island home ever since. While many of these early ponies were claimed by residents, some were left to roam wild.

The National Park Service took over their care and maintenance in the 1960s to keep them safe as the island’s human population continued to grow.

Now, anyone can help these beautiful and unique ponies by symbolically adopting an Ocracoke pony through Outer Banks Forever, the nonprofit that supports the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Supporting the ponies – individually or the herd – will help to pay for their ongoing care and feeding.

When you Adopt A Pony with a gift of $45 or more, you will receive an adoption certificate and a picture of your pony or the herd to keep.

Learn more about the history of the ponies here.

In an effort to be environmentally friendly and ensure more of your donation goes directly to the ponies, the foundation is offering a digital photo and certificate option.  Just click the “Digital Option” checkbox on the last screen before you complete your gift, and a photo and certificate will be emailed to you or your honoree.

If you would like your mailed photo and certificate to arrive in time for Christmas, please make your adoption no later than Friday, Dec. 9.

Outer Banks Forever is an official partner of Outer Banks national parks, helping to protect and enhance these special places.

The Ocracoke ponies are one of the top attractions on the island. Photo: P. Vankevich

Dredging to begin in Bigfoot Slough to address Ocracoke shoaling 

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Big Foot Slough channel goes past Big Foot Island, a dredge spoil island just outside Ocracoke. Photo: C. Leinbach

OCRACOKE – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to start this weekend work using a contracted dredge to clear critical shoaling in Bigfoot Slough just outside the N.C. Ferry Division’s Ocracoke-Silver Lake Terminal.

There are no planned changes to the state ferry schedules, but people planning a trip should check with the ferry terminals for any updates.

The dredging operation is expected to begin sometime this weekend and take about 50 days, depending on weather and sea conditions.  

“We’re very thankful to partner with the Corps of Engineers,” said Ferry Deputy Division Director for Operations Jed Dixon. “Shoaling continues to be a serious issue on the coast. The Corps has always responded quickly when we’ve had urgent requests.”

Shoaling occurs when waves push sand on the seabed and create areas where it is too shallow for boats to move through easily.

Dredging ships use tools to excavate and move sand so that boats can more easily navigate those waters.

The fall and winter are less busy than the summer.

However, these dredging efforts will result in a deeper, wider channel that will enable the Ferry Division to return to service next year the larger sound-class ferries to the N.C. Ferry System’s two longest routes.

Real-time updates on weather or mechanical delays on the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter routes can be found on the Twitter feed @NCFerryPamSound.

Community participation sought on Island Inn Park projects

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The Island Inn Park, drawing by Philip Howard

Ocracoke Alive is seeking artists to create freestanding murals to beautify the surrounding area of the Island Inn Park while the historic Odd Fellows Lodge is being restored.

The arts nonprofit is collaborating with Ocracoke Preservation Society, which owns the property, to recruit community volunteers to assist in the development of the park greenspace.

The mural project will be installed on the grounds of the Island Inn Park for the 2023 season.

Participating artists will be provided with a four-foot by four-foot panel to design around one of the following themes: Ocracoke Community, Ocracoke History, Ocracoke Environment.

There are a limited number of mural spots, and mural participation is subject to OPS and Ocracoke Alive approval.

Panels are due back from the artists by April 1 with a temporary installation from April 25 to Sept 15.

At the conclusion of the installation, an auction of the panels will be held with the proceeds to benefit the Island Inn Park Project.

Participating artists will be provided with a small stipend.

Other efforts in the collaboration include preparation of the grounds for landscaping and paths, the installation of a fig tree garden and the maintenance of the community park on the corner of Lighthouse Road and Irvin Garrish Highway.

If you are interested in landscape volunteering or participating in the mural project, please contact David Tweedie, 252-921-0260 (call or text), info@ocracokealive.org.

More information is available at www.ocracokealive.org.

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