Less than an hour’s drive from Duck, Pea Island is a reminder of what the Outer Banks was before the modern age of development. Beginning at the south end of the Bonner Bridge, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is little more than a thin strip of sand separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Pamlico Sound. It is a unique environment–a true example of a barrier island, although even here the hand of mankind is evident.
The sand dunes on the ocean side are not natural. Created in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), they were an early attempt to stabilize the shoreline. NCDOT continues to put a lot of time and effort into pushing sand off the road and back to the dunes following major storms. About three and a half miles south of the Bonner Bridge is a Visitor’s Center. This building is next to North Pond–an impoundment created by market hunters at the turn of the 20th century to attract migrating waterfowl. The trail along the impoundment is an excellent introduction to the diversity of life that Pea Island supports.
Pea Island has always been a birder’s paradise and there is always diverse species to observe, with fall and winter being the most spectacular seasons. For a different view of Pea Island, a kayak trip into the sound is a treat for people who are a little more active. There are a number of businesses that offer kayak tours, but more experienced kayakers may wish to go out on their own. The put-in launch site is at New Inlet about three miles south of the visitor’s center.
Pea Island is an active part of the Outer Banks shoreline and just south of New Inlet the evidence is clear at a bridge that looks almost like it was built from an erector set. The inlet it spans was formed after Hurricane Irene. There is a parking area to the left (ocean side) just over the bridge. It’s a good place to park and walk to the beach. Pay attention … one of the trails to the beach is next to a piping plover nesting area and access is strictly prohibited. On the beach, looking north at low tide, four wooden pilings pop up from the surf. At one time they held the cistern for the Pea Island Lifesaving Station, an all African-American station that was considered the finest on the coast. The parking lot is a good place to head back home, unless you’re planning to travel on to Hatteras Island–which is a trip for another day.
Important Information: Beach driving at Pea Island is prohibited. Beach driving is allowed in other areas of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, but there are severe restrictions on when and where it is permitted and the penalties for violating those restrictions are significant. For information about beach driving, go to http://www.nps.gov/caha/planyourvisit/off-road-vehicle-use.htmm and abide by these regulations.
Blogger’s Tip: Mid-May to mid-September, insect repellent is highly recommended. The US Fish and Wildlife is not permitted to use any chemical means to keep mosquito and biting fly populations under control.