Wednesday, January 16, 2013

God's Country

Locals and natives alike have constantly referred to the Outer Banks of North Carolina as "God's Country". From the "promised land" which the old residents on Shackleford Banks saw as their Eden, all the way up to Currituck at the North Carolina/Virgina Border, many a person has made the remark that the Outer Banks truly is God's Country. Now, this post will in no way dive into the religious aspects of "God's Country", but rather examine the natural or inherent reasons people call it so, and whether we as a society are maintaining  the heavenly status quo of "God's Country" on the Outer Banks.
          Since Sir Walter Raleigh and his party of explorers and colonists made their journey to the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the late 16th century, human settlement on the banks has been almost constant, although being quite sparse during some eras. Nonetheless, habitation of the banks began with the ancient Indians, the two main tribes on the banks being the Coree (for which Core Banks gets its name) and the Croatoan Tribe who occupied what was called Hatorask Banks at the time of the first attempt at English colonization in the summer of 1584 (guess which town/cape/national seashore gets its name from them). The next major group of people to occupy the banks were simply called pilots, and would guide ships through the constantly shifting shoals that tormented many mariners trying to pass through the inlets of the Outer Banks. As well as pilots, this group of people also fished when the fishing was good, hunted waterfowl (as many species of waterfowl call the banks home during the winter months), raised livestock such as goats, chickens, cows, and even the American Buffalo, as well as kept a garden. The way of life on the Outer Banks at this time, 1696 through ~1840 was pure sustenance (Stick, 1958), and though life was certainly tough and full of challenges, the hardy, weathered bankers welcomed them with open arms, solely for their love of the place they got to call home. It appears as though modern life began to sweep through the banks with the completion of the first summer resort, The Nags Head Hotel (circa 1849) , but more importantly with the creation of the U.S. Lifesaving Service, which by 1874 included seven stations up and down the banks. The original locations were: Jones's Hill (now Corolla), Caffrey's Inlet (just north of Duck), Kitty Hawk Beach, Nag's Head, Bodie Island, Chicamicomico (now Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo) and Little Kinakeet, now known as Avon (Stick, 1958).
            "Ushering in the Modern Era", as chronicler of the Outer Banks David Stick put it in his work "The Outer Banks of North Carolina 1584-1958", has led to in my opinion, a decline in the Outer Banks' pristine landscapes and endless beaches of solitude. I believe it is safe to say that the isolation and wilderness of the banks has diminished, except for small regions of Cape Lookout National Seashore, where development has been and will forever be, prohibited. Please to do not misinterpret what I am saying, the Outer Banks is a far, very distant cry from the crowded, dirty, and unhealthy beaches of New Jersey and overpopulated regions of Florida, however if we are not careful in the way we develop, the Outer Banks would be one step closer to meeting the fate of the Jersey Shore. We have reached a very interesting point in Outer Banks history as we move further into the 21st century. Hundreds of thousands of tourists flock each year to the banks, trying to find a slice of solitude, distant from the beaches of the North they have grown weary of. However, this solitude is becoming increasingly hard to find. Uncontrolled development coupled with naive and irresponsible building practices have transformed the Outer Banks from a place of solitude and isolation, to one where shopping centers and developments abound.
             The interest of the era lies in the fact that there is still time (albeit not much), to change our ways and practice smart, coherent, sensible development along the banks. It seems all to common that people forget that the Outer Banks is just a "ribbon of sand", one which is constantly migrating and subject to the forces of wind, water, and now, mankind. If out of control development continues for the next decade or so, we will surely be on our way to destroying what we have left of God's Country. Instead of urban sprawl and rapid development, perhaps we should follow a set of guidelines before developing a section of the banks. First, we should determine whether the specific section of beachfront/soundfront is stable, as some areas on the banks are eroding at rates of up to 9 feet per year. Second, we should consider the environmental/natural importance of the area, as many of our soundfront regions are home to nutrient producing marshes which develop and nurture the fish populations of the sounds. Lastly, if development does ensue, we should be careful to remain within the natural limits of the banks. The Outer Banks of North Carolina are in my opinion, one of the few unspoiled places left in the United States. Uncontrolled development and population booms are slowly but surely turning the banks into the last thing the original bankers wanted. The Corees, Croatoan's, pilots and fisherman of years past truly appreciated the beauty the beheld everyday and respected the land from which they drew their living. Perhaps we should look to the ideals of the past to solve the problems of the future.

"The possibilities for adaptive coastal management are limited only by our imaginations"- Dr. Stanley Riggs, Ph.D


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