North Carolina to Become Lighthouse Climbers’ Mecca
Six towers will be open to the public by 2011
by Cheryl Shelton-Roberts
On October 16, 2009, in a ceremony in Washington, D.C., the Outer Banks Scenic Byway was named to the distinctive and diverse collection of America’s byways. The nationally designated highway traverses one of the nation’s and North Carolina’s great coastal landscapes through Dare, Hyde, and Carteret Counties. The timing is perfectly in sync with ongoing restoration projects at Bodie Island, Cape Lookout, and Ocracoke Lighthouses. Within two years, the maritime trail from Currituck Beach Lighthouse all the way to Old Baldy and Oak Island will offer up six climbable towers and an assortment of other sound, river, and harbor lights to visit. Mixed into this trail of historic sites are life-saving stations, bird-watching areas, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, and several maritime museums. The Outer Banks National Scenic Byway’s nomination emphasizes the unique maritime culture shared by 21 coastal villages that punctuate the byway route. That culture, says the nomination, is thoroughly linked to the byway’s natural environment of barrier islands, capes and shallow sounds as well as nationally significant historic places. Add the beautiful southern areas that include Oak Island and Old Baldy Lighthouses, and anyone seeking a memorable coastal tour will be in heaven. Stimulus monies coming out of Washington, D.C., are helping at Bodie Island, Ocracoke, and Cape Lookout Lighthouses. It is reminiscent of make-work projects during the Great Depression that brought improvements to roadways and coastal areas that proved a boon for tourism; indeed, it created the great Blue Ridge Parkway and its classic rock walls and overpasses. Since a large part of North Carolina’s economy is based on tourism, stimulus monies couldn’t have come at a better time. Bodie Island Lighthouse has been literally falling to pieces for decades. Ocracoke Lighthouse has needed stairs repairs for as long while the interior brick was deteriorating back into the original clay form. Cape Lookout’s 150-year-old stairs are in dire need of restoration. It alone commands one of the most beautiful coastal wilderness areas in the world. Visitors will soon enjoy the view from the top, arguably one of life’s greatest experiences.