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The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is roughly 70 miles of coastline area amongst several barrier islands in North Carolina. Congress authorized it in 1937 as a first of its kind, and later in 1940, became the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area, another first, due to the cultural history of hunting in the area.
Lying in what is more commonly known as the Outer Banks, those aren’t the only firsts. Virginia Dare, born in 1587, was the first English-born child in the New World. She was also the first child christened in the New World into the Church of England. The Native American, Manteo, was the first person christened into the Church of England and gave his name to the small town on Roanoke Island where the colony was located.
North along the Outer Banks is where the first heavier-than-air flight took place by the brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright. Strong winds and open land provided the lift and safety for the brothers to successfully take to the air. The Wright Brothers Memorial stands where they made history, and markers show the various lengths of the flight paths from that event.
Getting to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a long drive, made to seem longer, with long stretches of road with open fields as the only sights and small towns dotted here and there. Add in the anticipation of the arrival, and the travel time doubles in feel.
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore boasts some of the darkest skies east of the Mississippi due to the distance from cities and artificial light. Three lighthouses stand and operate there, Bodie Island Lighthouse, the northernmost standing 156 feet tall with a black-and-white striped pattern, Cape Hatteras light, located on Hatteras Island, is considered the most important lighthouse on the eastern coast due to the protective beacon marking the dangerous shoals and standing as the nation’s tallest and second tallest in the world at 210 feet with a range of 28 miles, and Ocracoke Lighthouse, the state’s oldest operating light, standing 75 feet tall.
Two other lighthouses are in the general area with the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, a river light, located in Manteo on Roanoke Island, and Currituck Lighthouse, located in the northern portion of the outer banks standing 162 feet tall in the town of Corolla.
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore and its lighthouses are along an area that is particularly treacherous for seagoers, as the Gulf Stream and Labrador Currents collide, causing rough seas and strong storms.
Separating two portions of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. This is where some of the wildlife magic happens.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 as well as the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Encompassing just shy of 6,000 acres spanning 13 miles no wider than one mile, and close to 26,000 acres of bordering waters, the Pea Island NWR is known as a birder’s paradise.
While the area is either a home or temporary home to 25 species of mammals, 24 species of reptiles and five species of amphibians, the main attraction is the 365 species of birds. Some 2.7 million visitors come to the island yearly that include birders and nature and wildlife photographers.
During the winter months, the skies become blanketed with wintering snow geese and tundra swan, as well as numerous species of ducks and other waterfowl. Recently a span of five miles of beach was covered in wing-to-wing cormorants, turning the usually white sands into a sheet of black feathers.
Ideal for a day trip during the weekend, it is a good way to get away for a mini vacation during these cold days.
Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.