The boundaries of Cape Hatteras National Seashore changes constantly, due to the fact that the park is just a narrow ribbon of sand, where tides, waves, and currents provide daily, sometime subtle, changes. Storms, of course, provoke more sudden and often severe changes to the islands. In the past, it was called "the graveyard of the Atlantic," because of the many shipwrecks caused by its treacherous currents.
This is the nation's first national seashore and it has seen a lot of history. Included in the park's past have been such characters as Blackbeard the pirate, Billy Mitchell and his test aerial bombings, Reginald Fessenden's first radio broadcasts (1906), and a parade of peoples from the early Native Americans to modern RV couples. Construction of early lighthouses and the birth of the U.S. Coast Guard are among the most prominent features of the past here, too. The park was established in 1953, making it comparatively new. It covers some 30,000 acres and extends along North Carolina's coast for about 70 miles.
If you like weather reports and the art of predicting weather, look out for the US Weather Bureau Station here, built in 1901, one of 11 erected around the country at the time. It is one of only three remaining nationwide, and the only one restored to its 1901 condition. Since 2007 it has been a visitors center.
At night, if you kick the sand, you may see sparkles. That's because you're disturbing the tiny dinoflagellates, a chemical reaction causing them to glow with a blue-green light. Think of them as land plankton, the sea version of which also gives off a luminescence, though the sea variety is usually white.
Getting around requires some planning. If you intend to use the ferries to get to Ocracoke Island, you need to make reservations. The ferry between Ocracoke and Hatteras islands is free, by the way.
Be sure to stop by one of the Visitor Centers to get an idea of your surroundings and what activities or events are available during g your stay. There are three centers, at Bodie Island, Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island. They are open from 9 to 6 during summer months and from 9 to 5 the rest of the year. (Closed on Christmas Day.)
You can climb up Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (a National Historic Landmark) usually from the third Friday in April through Columbus Day (early October). While up there, consider the fact that you are standing in the tallest brick structure ever moved, they say. When it was built in 1870, it stood 1,500 feet from the shore. By 1999, the lighthouse was within 100 feet of the ocean. To protect it from the encroaching sea, it was moved inland a total of 2,900 feet (more than half a mile) over a period of 23 days.
Today, fishing and surfing are among the most popular activities, both being considered the best to be had on the East Coast.
The campgrounds are usually open from Easter weekend through Columbus Day. One, the Cape Point Campground, is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Flora & Fauna
In addition to loggerhead sea turtles, you may see the piping plover. In the water are dozens of varieties of fish, including mackerel, flounder, trout and pompano. There are 360 documented species of birds overhead, as Hatteras is located on the Atlantic Flyway, a major avian migratory route. It has been named a Globally Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy. If you fancy, you can swim with the giant water flea (which grow up to 2 cm. in length), a major source of food for small fish in the area. On land here, you may also see the occasional white-tailed deer.
Amaranth is a common plant seen here, though the government lists it as a threatened species. Reeds, shrubs and pennywort are among other species of plants that abound.
There are Teacher-Ranger programs here for the first time. Check out the official website for more details. Kids can become Junior Rangers and get a badge. Ask at the visitor centers for details.
New in 2009
Vehicles are prohibited on ocean beaches from 10pm to 6am from May 1 through September 15 in order to protect nesting sea turtles. There may be occasional closures for breeding shorebirds between mid-March and late August.
There are no admission fees to the national seashore. There are fees for climbing the lighthouse and for camping and using the boat docks. The place is open year round.
The park reports 2,146,392 "recreational visits" in 2008. July and August saw the most visits, naturally.
The official website of the seashore is www.nps.gov/caha.
A good commercial site is www.outerbanks.org.
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