A Sense of Place

By Pam Lazos, Region 3

Ocracoke, a North Carolina barrier island, part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, is truly a mysterious place. Ocracoke’s physical connection to the rest of the world is tenuous: the only way onto the island is by ferry, private boat or private plane. Sure you can take your car, but fill the tank before you go because there’s only one gas station on the island. Once used for subsistence hunting and fishing by the Hatterask Indians, and a favorite haunt of Edward Teach, a/k/a the pirate Blackbeard, most of the island is preserved and wild, a thin, undeveloped strip of land that barely manages to keep its head at five feet above sea level.

The Ocracoke Village, built at the Southern, wider tip of the island, boasts the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the world’s tallest brick lighthouse and a National Historic Landmark. The village is also known for its parasailing, deep sea fishing, jet skiing, a great local music scene, and a beautiful beach, which is home to federally protected or endangered species such as the piping plover, the seabeach amaranth, and sea turtles. You can walk for miles along its shores without seeing a single building, nothing but dunes, sand and sea. There are amenities, yes: hotels, restaurants, shops, all the usual beach town stuff, but utter the word franchise and it’s as if you’re speaking a foreign language. Therein lies the charm: for hundreds of years, Ocracoke has been an outpost run by locals – including pirates – in their own way. While nature is always redrawing the boundaries of this mostly untamed island, its individualistic character remains intact.

My favorite part of the Ocracoke experience is riding our bikes everywhere while the car sits parked in the driveway. We ride for exercise – roundtrip to the ferry and back is almost 30 miles — we ride to the beach, to dinner and shopping. We’re not alone. Everyone’s either on a bike or a golf cart, the favored modes of transportation, or walking. I don’t think that people are consciously making these sustainable choices. Rather, it’s as if the place expects it of you, like you and the island made a pact the minute you got off the ferry: go slow, live fuller moments, slow down and breathe, leave the car. And so we do.

About the author: Pam Lazos is a Senior Assistant Regional Counsel, working in the Water Branch in Region 3.