Travel Blog: West Teaching Scholars Ocracoke Island Leadership Retreat
May 6 - 2:45 a.m.
by Jane Snider, Staff Member
The West Teaching Scholars with mentors and chaperones loaded a chartered bus to
begin the trek across the state—our destination the Outer Banks. The Outer Banks are a 200 mile stretch of barrier islands and comprise approximately half of the northern coast of North Carolina. We arrived on Bodie Island (pronounced "body"), a long, barrier peninsula that is 72 miles long and stretches from Virginia Beach to the Oregon Inlet.
Our first stop was the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk where students learned about the experiences of Wilbur and Orville Wright and their experiments in flight from 1901 until December 17, 1903 when Wilbur made the first powered flight of 200 feet lasting 12 seconds. Students explored the exhibit halls learning about the research that led the Wright brothers in their quest. The group traveled to Jockey's Ridge and climbed to the top of the 80 to 100 foot sand dune where they could see both the ocean on one side and sound on the other.
After a lunch stop at Sam and Omie's Restaurant in Nags Head, we traveled down the old highway for a closer look at some of the original beach houses constructed from 1860 to 1940. Dr. Gary Freeze, Professor of History, gave a brief history of the original houses and pointed out differences between the original houses and the newer houses that were constructed in the Nags Head style. The houses were designated in 1977 as the Nags Head Beach Cottage Row National Register Historic District. Characterized by their weather-beaten, unpainted wooden shingle façade and wooden storm shutters, the old houses reminded us of a time when the pace of life was slower and far less complicated.
Travelling farther down the coast, our next stop was the Bodie Island Lighthouse. The current structure is actually the third lighthouse on this site. The first was built with an improper foundation and began to lean. The second was destroyed during the Civil War. During the visit, students were able to listen to a 92-year old docent who had been the last lightkeeper (or possibly his son) at Bodie Island. He pointed out that each lighthouse along the coast was identifiable not only by its distinctive appearance (horizontal black and white bands) but also by the flash pattern of the light. The Bodie Island Light Station is currently in operation and is an important navigational aid for ships travelling south as it warns of approachment to Cape Hatteras and the dangerous Diamond Shoals.
Crossing Oregon Inlet, we continued our journey onto Hatteras Island. Our first stop, Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station, was built and manned in 1874 and was the first U.S. Lifesaving Station in North Carolina. In 1915, the organization evolved into the U.S. Coast Guard and operation at Chicamacomico continued until 1954. During the 80 years of operation, 177,286 lives were saved of the 178,741 lives in peril (99.2%). Students viewed relics including a lifesaving "rowboat" and a map showing the location of shipwrecks along the coastal area of North Carolina aptly dubbed the "Graveyard of the Atlantic. " As we continued our journey, Dr. Freeze explained that ships traveled close to the coastline because of the proximity to the various ports and that the currents of the Gulf Stream made travel faster.
Our next stop was the Cape Hatteras Lightstation. As we waited for our group to enter, park guides briefed us on the history and interesting facts of the light station. The tallest lighthouse in the United States, it stands 208 feet and is constructed of roughly 1-1 ¼ million brick. The black and white spiral tower with its red brick base is one of the most popular of all North Carolina lighthouses. Still in operation, it is also open for climbing. As we climbed the 257 spiral steps to the watch room, many stopped at the landings to "catch our breath". Once we reached the top, we knew the spectacular view was well worth the climb. Continuing on, we "hop" the ferry to Ocracoke Island docking on the northern tip of the island. We travel for miles with water on both sides on a narrow ribbon of land until we reach the small village of Ocracoke.
We arrived at Blackbeard's Lodge, the oldest and most historic hotel still in operation, which opened in 1936 and would be our base for the next few days. Originally the Wahab Village Hotel, it included a theatre and skating rink and served family style meals. It has been a long and tiring day, but with a little free time on our hands, groups venture into the village for dinner. Later in the evening, we meet as a group to review the day's activities and to discuss the itinerary for the next day. Early to bed (for some), for it is "early to rise" for a full day of activities tomorrow.
PHOTOS: Teaching Scholars Leadership Retreat