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Buried Treasure Beneath Jockey’s Ridge

For visitors to the Outer Banks who have traveled along Highway 158 through Nags Head, Jockey’s Ridge—the massive mound of sand that sits along the sound side of the island—is virtually impossible to miss. Towering 100 feet tall and extending across an area of more than 420 acres, Jockey’s Ridge State Park has been a popular destination for tourists and Outer Banks locals for decades.

Photo: Our State Magazine

The largest living natural sand dune system on the East Coast is home to a wide array of wildlife, including red foxes, raccoons, white-tailed deer, opossums, rabbits and six-lined racerunners, as well as several species of bird, such as snowy egrets, sandpipers and ospreys. The enormous dune also serves as the perfect spot to enjoy outdoor recreation ranging from sand-boarding to hang-gliding. Although the native wildlife that live here and the opportunities for outdoor recreation are the primary attractions that draw visitors to the state park, the buried treasure that occasionally surfaces from beneath the sand also prompts people to swing by to take a peek.

Photo: ObxBound.com

The Town of Nags Head was established in the 1830s, when residents of inland towns began to seek an escape from the smothering heat of North Carolina summers and started arriving by boat across the Roanoke Sound. Promising fresh salt air and cool ocean breezes, the Outer Banks soon became a travel destination for visitors, many of whom also constructed summer cottages on the western edge of the island so they can spend several weeks or months at a time along the shoreline.

Photo Courtesy of Outer Banks History Center

As more and more visitors traversed the inland coastal plains and made their way to the barrier islands a need to develop more accommodations became evident. In 1938, the area’s first hotel was construction at the foot of the sand dunes. With maritime winds constantly blowing grains of sand and causing the sand dunes to shift, the hotel’s rooms soon began to fill with sand, forcing the owner to provide shovels in each room so guests could clear sand from their  doorway during their stay.

Over time, the sands of Jockey’s Ridge had shifted dramatically and the mountains of sand that had formed on the back side of the hotel started to rise as high as the hotel’s rooftop. Since the hotel owners were no match for Mother Nature, the Nags Head hotel was eventually swallowed up entirely by the sand dune. Today, no signs of the hotel can be found, and many debate whether or not the stories of its existence under Jockey’s Ridge are even true.

Photo: Village Realty OBX

In the 1970s, a miniature golf course was opened on a site near Jockey’s Ridge to provide family-friendly fun to Outer Banks visitors of all ages. Among myriad other obstacles on the putt putt course that players had to navigate were a giant octopus and a large sand castle. Winds whipping across the barrier islands throughout the seasons cause the sand dune to migrate anywhere from three to six feet to the southwest each year, and because the course was situated so close to Jockey’s Ridge, it also fell victim to the colossal sand dune. Once the sand encroached, the park system purchased the putt putt course, which now lays entombed beneath the sand.

Photo: Dan Waters Photography

Located on the southwest corner of Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the tip of the sand castle from the golf course can occasionally be spotted in the midst of the dunes. Southwest winds sometimes shift the sand just enough that the crumbling structure can be spotted from the road, prompting many visitors to make a stop at the park to hike up the dune to pose for a photo beside this piece of buried treasure on one of the most famous landmarks along the entire Outer Banks. 

Creating an Outdoor Oasis in Your Own Backyard

The summer season is fast approaching, and with the promise of sunny skies and warm temps comes the desire to spend as much time as possible enjoying the great outdoors. While many homeowners are content to simply set out a patio table and chairs and to string a few strands of colorful outdoor lights along deck rails, creating an outdoor oasis in your own backyard can be done simply and without spending a fortune on extensive renovations.

Whether you’re searching for an easy and inexpensive way to dress up your deck for the summer or you’re looking for a more intensive overhaul of your patio or backyard, the following tips will provide options for creating an outdoor escape regardless of the size of your budget or the space you’re working with.

Photo: FindingWinter.com

Selecting Outdoor Seating Options

Perhaps the simplest way to give your patio, deck or backyard space a brand-new look without racking up serious costs is to swap your current seating situation with something more sophisticated. Ditch your basic fold-up lawn or camp chairs and opt instead for inexpensive-but-better-quality seating from a local home improvement store. From coastal cottages to mountaintop retreats, Adirondack chairs are a popular option that provides both comfort and style no matter where your humble abode is located.  

If you’re on a limited budget, purchase lightweight plastic Adirondack chairs that can easily be moved from one spot to another. If you have a little more money to spend and want to give your backyard a more sophisticated appearance, solid wood Adirondack chairs are the way to go. In addition to being a versatile style of seating that looks great in backyards from the city to the suburbs and virtually everywhere in between, one of the biggest advantages of opting for Adirondack chairs is the fact that they come in a wide array of colors, so you’ll be sure to find something that coincides nicely with the rest of your home’s outdoor décor.

Photo: MemorableDecor.com

Arranging Your New Seating

Choosing a type of seating is a key element to enhancing your outdoor space, but equally important is making sure you have enough seating for guests and that you place it in a pattern that best accommodates the space you have available. While you may only need seating for yourself and your immediate family on a regular basis, having plenty of extra seating for guests is a must if you plan on doing any outdoor entertaining at your home this season. If you don’t have the space to keep additional seating outside all the time, opt for stackable chairs and store them in your cottage’s garage or utility closet. This way, you can easily retrieve your chairs and set them out when you know guests will be coming by for an event or party, without cluttering up your outdoor space should they not be used frequently by your own family.

Photo: Home Depot

Ensuring you have enough seats for everyone who attends an event or get-together at your home is essential, but it’s also important to remember that seating should be arranged properly to assist with the flow of communication and movement. Many decks—particularly those on the sides of beach homes and cottages—are long and skinny and require chairs to be placed in a row; however, if you want to facilitate an open conversation among friends and family, try your best to arrange chairs in a cluster where guests will be facing one another.

Another great way to encourage interaction among guests is to arrange the chairs in a circle so no one is left out of a conversation. Placing a fire pit in the center of the circle of chairs is an excellent way to add a focal point and enhance the ambiance, even if it means you have to relocate your seating space from the decks to the backyard, where more room is available for such seating. That said, if your coastal cottage has a view you want to enjoy with your guests—such as the ocean, sound, canal or saltmarsh—make sure you also offer options where you and your guests can kick back and relax on a deck with a scenic view of the world around you.

Photo: Cybball.com


Planting Flowers and Potted Palms

Nothing says creating a natural environment in your own backyard quite like bringing a variety of potted plants and flowers into your outdoor living space. Develop the illusion of relaxing on a deserted island by purchasing and planting native species of palm trees along the perimeter of your backyard or patio. Just make sure the specific types you pick will successfully grow in your geographic region before shelling out a significant amount of money on trees or shrubs that won’t make it through the season.

Photo: Pinterest

Don’t have room for standard-size palm trees or ferns in your outdoor living space because you reside in an apartment or condo—or because you simply want to bring the oasis to an upper-level deck where they won’t likely fit? That’s not a problem. Just swing by a local nursery or home improvement store’s garden center and select species of plants or palms that stay relatively small and do well in portable container pots. Be sure to spend a couple of weeks scoping out the amount of sunshine that area of your yard or deck receives on a regular basis so that you choose the species of plants or palms you want to plant wisely.

Privacy, Privacy, Privacy

Whether you want to use your revamped outdoor area for yourself and a small group of family members on a regular basis or you intend to use it primarily for large outdoor parties and events, the space you create won’t feel like much of an outdoor oasis if you can feel your neighbors’ prying eyes on you while you soak up the sun, sip on a cocktail or enjoy a good book in your favorite new set of seating. To truly create a sense of privacy, the obvious choice is a privacy fence that surrounds your entire yard and stands tall enough that neighbors and passersby can’t see over the top. If you live in a condo, however, or if you are renting your current residence and aren’t permitted to put up fencing, the next best options are outdoor tapestries, blinds, latticework fencing, dense netting and privacy shields.

Photo: Pinterest.com

A wide array of privacy options that are suitable to be set up outdoors and will easily withstand UV rays and strong winds that commonly occur in coastal regions are available online or at your local home goods store. Whatever you select, make sure you fasten it securely and don’t create any type of eyesore for your neighbors to look at from surrounding properties. Once you have added sufficient privacy features to your backyard, patio or deck, you can gather up that guest list and invite your friends, family members and coworkers over to enjoy an afternoon or evening in your newly renovated outdoor oasis that will make you regret spending a single moment inside since you now have your very own piece of paradise right outside your back door.

History of the Ocracoke Light Station

Photo Courtesy of VisitNC.com

The most famous lighthouse along the Outer Banks of North Carolina may be the iconic black-and-white spiraled structure that stands on a spit of sand at Cape Hatteras, but when it comes to navigational aids guarding the Graveyard of the Atlantic, a lesser-known but equally important lighthouse should not be overlooked. Located on the southern edge of Ocracoke Island—a 16-mile-long stretch of sand accessible only by boat—the Ocracoke Light Station has a storied past that dates back to the days when Blackbeard the Pirate sailed the seas surrounding the barrier islands that comprise the Outer Banks.

An unincorporated community in Hyde County, Ocracoke is situated south of Hatteras Island and just a few nautical miles northeast of Portsmouth Island. Ocracoke Inlet—a narrow waterway that lies between Ocracoke Island and Portsmouth Island—became a popular channel during the late 1500s for ships needing to gain access to inland ports ranging from Elizabeth City to Edenton and New Bern. Because of the island’s convenient location between the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound where ships often traveled along area trade routes, a small village soon developed in what is currently known as Ocracoke Village in the 1730s.

Photo: Bob Muller

Due to the constantly changing sandbars beneath the surface of the sea, navigating the coastline near Ocracoke Island became extremely difficult, and many mariners experienced issues with shoaling and found themselves shipwrecked on the sandbars. To assist with the navigational troubles these mariners dealt with during their journeys from the trade routes of the Atlantic Ocean to points inland, numerous “pilots” who were familiar with the shoals were hired to help steer ships safely through what was quickly becoming one of the busiest inlets on the Eastern Seaboard. Because these pilots eventually settled on Ocracoke Island, the tiny village was originally referred to as “Pilot Town.”

Recognizing that a crew of pilots was not quite enough to assist mariners sailing the sound and sea near Ocracoke, the U.S. Lighthouse Service deemed the spot worthy of further aid to sailors, and in 1794 construction on a navigational structure began. The lighthouse—a wooden tower in the shape of a pyramid—was built on a 25-acre island between Ocracoke and neighboring Portsmouth Island to the south called Shell Castle Island. A small house was also constructed on Shell Castle Island to provide accommodations for the resident lightkeeper, as well as a handful of additional facilities such as gristmills and cargo wharves.

Although this first lighthouse was extremely successful in helping to warn mariners of the nearby sandbars and assisted them in navigating their way from the ocean to their inland destinations, after fewer than 20 years the structure was deemed obsolete. Shoaling had caused the channel itself to shift its location by nearly a mile, and, according to the National Park Service, the lighthouse and the keeper’s quarters were both destroyed by lightning in 1818, leaving mariners in the dark once more.

A few years later, the U.S. government purchased a two-acre area on the southern end of Ocracoke Island and hired Noah Porter, a builder from Massachusetts, to construct a new navigational aid for Ocracoke Inlet near the channel’s new location. The property was purchased for a total of $50, and, despite budgeting $20,000 for the lighthouse and the one-story keeper’s quarters, both were completed for just $11,359 in 1823.

At a height of 75 feet, the Ocracoke Light Station is significantly shorter than many of its counterparts along the coast; however, its light—which can be seen as far as 14 miles at sea—provided the perfect solution for sailors searching for assistance in safely navigating the shifting shoals off the North Carolina coastline. A sturdy structure whose solid, white brick walls are five feet thick at the base and taper to two feet thick at the top of the tower, the Ocracoke Light Station has withstood hundreds of storms and dozens of hurricanes in the nearly two centuries it has stood watch over the southern portion of the Outer Banks.

Photo: Our State Magazine

Unlike many other lighthouses along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Ocracoke Light Station is not open to the public for tours or climbing; however, the second-oldest operating lighthouse in the United States still attracts thousands of visitors each year who stop by Ocracoke Village to see this unique piece of Outer Banks history in person.

The Origins of the Historic Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island

The Outer Banks of North Carolina may be best known for its beautiful beaches, abundance of wildlife and wide array of opportunities for outdoor recreation, but visitors to this popular vacation destination should not miss out on a lesser-known attraction that lies on Roanoke Island: the Elizabethan Gardens. Situated along the shores of the Roanoke Sound on the northernmost tip of the island, the Elizabethan Gardens comprises 10.5 acres and is home to more than 500 different species of plants and flowers.

The story of the Elizabethan Gardens begins in 1950, when four individuals paid a visit to the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site to view The Lost Colony outdoor drama at Roanoke Island’s Waterside Theatre. The group of visitors consisted of Ruth Louise Coltrane Cannon, a civic leader and preservationist; Inglis Fletcher, an esteemed author and historian; and British author Sir Eveyln Wench, as well as his wife, Hylda Henrietta Brook. Inspired by their trip to this historic spot on the Outer Banks, the group dreamed up with an idea to create a place that would forever pay homage to the lost colonists that attempted to settle on Roanoke Island in 1587.

Photo: ElizabethanGardens.org

They presented their idea to develop a two-acre tract along the neighboring Fort Raleigh National Park to The Garden Club of North Carolina at the nonprofit organization’s annual meeting in 1951. The pitch was a success, as The Garden Club of North Carolina voted in favor of building the future Elizabethan Gardens on property leased from the Roanoke Island Historical Association. The original plans for the development of the Elizabethan Gardens included a small, two-acre garden that exemplified the type of garden members of the Lost Colony would have potentially created had the colony not disappeared without a trace shortly after settlers landing on Roanoke Island.

Photo: ElizabethanGardens.org

Plans changed, however, when a contractor in Fayetteville, N.C., informed The Garden Club about the availability of a garden statuary he was charged with dismantling at the Greenwood Estate in Thomasville, Georgia. Although the owners of the statuary had planned to donate the structure to the Metropolitan Museum, the couple was soon convinced to gift it to the Elizabethan Gardens in commemoration of the historical significance of the first English settlement in America. Thanks to the involvement of New York landscape architects Innocenti & Webel, the site of the gardens received a series of additional gifts, including a sundial, birdbaths, benches, stone steps, a wellhead and an ancient Italian fountain. With the addition of these items, the plans for the proposed gardens changed drastically, and a significantly more elaborate plan for the overall concept of the Elizabethan Gardens was developed.

Photo: RoanokeIsland.net

The Garden Club of North Carolina put the Innocenti & Webel firm in charge of planning the gardens, which were to designed to offer a present-day take on the Elizabethan style. The team broke ground at the site on June 2, 1953, a date which held extreme significance as it was the date that Queen Elizabeth II was officially crowned the Queen of England in Westminster Abbey. Seven years later, on August 18, 1960—the 373rd anniversary of the birth of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World—the Elizabethan Gardens opened to the public.  

Photo: ElizabethanGardens.org

Today, more than half a century after the gates to the garden were first opened, the 10-acre portion of land against the edge of the Roanoke Sound is one of the most visited gardens in the entire region. Visitors can take a leisurely stroll along a series of meandering walkways to view a variety of floral and plant collections ranging from camellias to hydrangeas. A handful of full-time gardeners as well as several seasonal and part-time employees care for the collections within the Elizabethan Gardens, changing the massive displays as the seasons change throughout the year.

Although the vast majority of the gardens’ 500+ flowers and plants bloom throughout the spring, summer and fall, one of the most popular times for visitors to stop by the Elizabethan Gardens is during the winter, thanks to the popular WinterLights festival that takes place on the garden grounds each year. On select evenings from late November to mid-January, visitors can walk the pathways and experience dozens of intricate holiday light displays that transform the Elizabethan Gardens into an illuminated winter wonderland that attracts thousands of visitors to the Outer Banks during the holiday season.

Photo: NorthBeachSun.com

With a storied past that dates back to the mid-20th century—and an inspiration that dates back even further to the days the members of the Lost Colony once temporarily lived within this maritime forest on northern Roanoke Island—the Elizabethan Gardens offer something for everyone of all ages visiting this barrier island paradise to enjoy any time of the year.

Historic Frisco Pier Soon to be Demolished

Those who have traveled to Hatteras Island for decades are undoubtedly familiar with one of the Outer Banks’ most popular landmarks: the Frisco Pier. But unlike the dozens of other attractions that draw visitors to the island throughout the year—including other nearby piers in the neighboring villages of Avon and Rodanthe—the Frisco Pier no longer attracts fishermen looking to cast a line in search of the catch of the day. Instead, visitors who make the trek from the northern beaches toward the southern tip of Hatteras Island are simply hoping to catch a glimpse of the decades-old wooden structure—and to see if it’s still standing in the spot where the shoreline meets the sea.

Photo Courtesy of Carol Van Dyke Photography

Officially named the Cape Hatteras Fishing Pier, the Frisco Pier—as it’s always been known to frequent visitors and locals alike—was built in in 1962. Long before Hatteras Island became a bustling vacation destination for families and famous for offering opportunities for world-class recreational activities like kiteboarding and standup paddleboarding, the Frisco Pier served as a hot spot for fishermen and sightseers who set up shop along its wooden planks and enjoyed an afternoon or evening in its adjoining pier house.

But after less than five decades of operation, the Frisco Pier sustained such serious damage during Hurricane Earl in the fall of 2010, it was closed to the public and has remained inaccessible ever since. The Category 2 hurricane, which passed 85 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras on September 3, 2010, sent strong winds and rough surf barreling toward the barrier island, resulting in large sections of the pier breaking off into the ocean and the remaining portions to buckle and break.  

Photo Courtesy of Dave Allen Photography

The structure’s owners at the time—Hatteras Island natives Tod and Angie Gaskill, who had purchased the Frisco Pier after it was severely damaged during Hurricane Isabel in 2003—fought to save the pier, but despite their efforts, Mother Nature prevailed. In the decade the Gaskills owned the Frisco Pier, storm after storm has taken a serious toll on the structure, which once stretched 400 feet into the Atlantic Ocean. In 2013, after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in various attempts to repair the pier and reopen it for use by island residents and visitors, the couple reluctantly sold the historic Hatteras Island landmark to the National Park Service.

With portions of the pier being torn away by crashing waves during each nor’easter and hurricane to pass offshore, the structure was deemed unrepairable by the Park Service and slated to be demolished in the fall of 2016. Underwater dives to survey the pier have been completed, and, according to findings, 263 pilings that kept the pier in place—in addition to the pier house and the remaining planks on the walkway above—will ultimately need to be removed.

The Frisco Pier before it was destroyed by Hurricane Earl in 2010. Photo Courtesy of RoanokeHomes.net

Although demolition plans were approved by the Park Service and bids were sought for the pier’s removal, the process of tearing down the Frisco Pier was not initiated during the proposed timeline, and the remaining pieces of the pier are still standing—for the time being. When the historic Frisco Pier is finally demolished—the timeline for which has not yet been announced—what will be left in its place is a planned public beach access to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

For lovers of this historic wooden landmark that has stretched into the sea for decades, the thought of taking a stroll along the shoreline and not seeing its silhouette against the sky borders on unimaginable. As a result, the structure has become one of the most visited—and most photographed—spots on Hatteras Island in recent years. Vacationers and locals alike are both inspired by and in awe of the Frisco Pier, which refuses to fall full victim to the sea and attracts thousands of visitors who climb over the sand dunes and step out onto the beach in hopes of catching one last glimpse of this historic Hatteras Island landmark before it is lost forever.

Photo Courtesy of FJ Wilner Photography
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