Who knows how it was done, but somehow the Outer Banks Group of the National Park Service had one of the best years they’ve ever had. The Outer Banks Group is the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site on Roanoke Island, the Wright Brother Monument in Kill Devil Hills, and Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
CHNS had over 2.6 million visitors last year—the most since 2003 and a small increase over 2018. The Wright Brothers Monument also showed an increase over 2018.
What makes the CHNS number so surprising is that in September Hurricane Dorian cut Ocracoke off to almost all visitation—that an important part of the park. The southern end of Hatteras was also heavily damaged and that, too, is a significant part of CHNS.
The damage the hurricane did on Ocracoke was more than anyone can remember. The damage to the Village is still being repaired.
That includes catastrophic damage to the lighthouse keeper’s quarters beside Ocracoke Lighthouse. The building was traditionally where villagers would go when hurricanes pushed the waters of Silver Lake into the streets.
The storm surge from Dorian was so high that the building has been damaged.
The building is a rare double lighthouse keeper’s quarters. The original structure was built in 1854. As the duties of the lighthouse keeper increased, a second keeper was needed and a second floor was added in 1897 and expanded again in 1929.
According to Park Superintendent Dave Hallec, plans were on the books to renovate the building and raise it—something that was already going to be very expensive. With the damage that was done by Dorian, it is unclear if the building can be saved.
The lighthouse keeper’s quarters are probably the most notable damage, but by no means were they the only structure damaged. A number of restrooms and shower facilities at campgrounds were also damaged, although repairs are moving forward with them.
However, the parks did manage to get a fair amount of new construction and facilities in.
What may have been the most significant project of the year was finishing the renovation of the Wright Brothers Monument Visitors Center.
Designed by Philadelphia architects Romaldo Giurgola and Ehrman Mitchell, the modernistic building opened in 1957 to widespread praise for its design and use of space. After 61 years it was in dire need of refurbishing and work began in 2018.
It was a huge project that included restoring and preserving the architectural integrity of a building that was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975, and updating and making the exhibits accessible to everyone.
The work on the building was done so well the it has received a Gold LEED rating by the U.S. Green Building Council. A gold rating is one of the highest environmental ratings given to buildings.
One of the most unique improvements is a handicap accessible duck blind on Bodie Island. The boardwalk is 200’ long and 6’ wide and ends in a covered area that will serve as a blind.
Duck hunting is permitted within CHNS boundaries provided the hunter has a North Carolina hunting license.
The Park is somewhat different from many other national parks in that it allows hunting. One of the reasons CHNS is designated a national recreational area was to legally accommodate hunting.
There were also a number of smaller projects finished that make the three parks just a little better.
On Hatteras Island, Canadian Hole got a second parking lot and some facility improvements. The second parking lot, Kite Point, should keep people from parking on the side of NC 12.
A little-noted improvement for the Fort Raleigh site is at the end of Pear Pad Road where there is a small parking lot and beach. The parking lot has been improved and a trail leads to a small but very nice little beach.