Monday, May 11, 2015

NC Core Sound, Sea Level, Atlantic, Cedar Island

     Today we are moving northward along the inland side of Core Sound NC, along a sort of peninsula whose end defines the boundary between Core Sound and Pamlico Sound.  Every now and then you can catch glimpses of North Carolina's Outer Banks, thin ribbons of sand a few miles out to sea.

     We pass towns with names like Marshallberg, Davis, Sea Level and Atlantic.  These are small fishing towns, many of which found their origin in the early 1700's as camps.

     Everywhere you look are boats.  Not the pleasure craft - not yachts or sailboats, but working boats of many shapes and sizes.

     In fact it seems that about every house has a working boat of some type or another either in the yard or in a creek or inlet alongside the property.

     The boat building skills that developed on Harkers Island were passed along to these areas; most of the boats you see here were built by locals - and in many cases by the person who it belongs to.

     There are a few smaller trawlers sprinkled in the mix.

     But for the most part they are smaller craft.

     At first glance it appears that fishing in this area is thriving.

     But upon closer inspection you see that most of the boats are in sad repair - many of them look barely seaworthy.

    Everywhere you look are piers and docks that "used to be."

     Nets that cost two thousand dollars and up are left carelessly lying about - some of them in rapid decay.

     You begin to notice the stores - the infrastructure.  Most of it is in one stage of decay or another.

     PRain water now leaks through windows and roofs of places that not long ago were hubs of social activity.

     Small towns with populations of a few hundred have thirty, forty, even fifty houses sitting vacant.

     And then there are the fisheries - packing houses that were busily supplying seafood for much of the nation - decaying and falling into the sea.

     One thing I alway like to do is to find spots where locals hang out, especially in the mornings,and sit quietly editing photos while they chat.  In these areas the conversations are mostly about what used to be and about who else is closing up shop or moving out.

     I listened to a tale this morning of the area's last open fishery.  The owner had bought 50,000 lbs of clams from locals and shipped them to a fellow in Buffalo NY. The guy in Buffalo said they were spoiled and he wasn't paying for them.  

     Now, these people have been dealing with seafood for centuries, and they know the clams weren't spoiled.  But according to the conversation that represents at least $15,000 out of the fishery owner's pocket - money that may put him under for good.

     Sometimes I hear things so funny that I have to fight from laughing out loud.  This morning the conversation ran to a local fellow who has just discovered that his second child - like his first - is autistic.
     "I guarantee you what it is" said one fellow in his deep brogue.  "Its that woman he married - she's from Pennsylvania and there is lots of inbreeding going on up there."

     Having grown up next door to Pennsylvania in Ohio, it was all I could do not to laugh.  When we grew up everyone said the inbreeders were in West Virginia.  I wonder where West Virginians think the inbreeding is going on?

     The sign post at the top end of NC State Rt. 70 seems to say it best.

     You don't have to look far to start noticing the once proud working boats that are grounded and in decay - little more than heaps of trash now.

      During our recent visit to Harkers Island we saw how much work it takes to build these craft.  After having just seen all of the work it takes to make these boats, we can just glimpse the pain that the folks who built and operated these boats feel.

     In the midst of it all is a great rustic beauty.  Spring wildflowers are in full bloom.

     A few of the boats are still operating.  But selling their product is another issue altogether.  In one town five fisheries have closed and only one remains open - and that one only operates a couple of days a week.


     Moving still further north we cross a long causeway across Thorofare Bay.  There are trenches of water along both sides of the causeway where the dirt was taken to build them.  Elevation of this road?  About three feet.

      We arrive at Cedar Island, which many believe was the location of the lost colony of Roanoke back in the 1600's.

     Of an interesting note - early settlers mistook the islands lush population of juniper trees for cedars - hence the island is misnamed.

     We meet Rodrick Emery, who in June will have lived on this island for 86 years.

     Rodrick tools around the island on his bike and takes a constant ribbing from his fellows for his penny-pinching ways.  Maybe riding his bike a few miles every day is why he remains so spry at his age.

     But if you want to know about what has happened here since the 1920's, Rodrick is the man to ask.

     It seems that German U-Boats sunk several oil freighters just offshore here, and Rodrick says you could see them burning like huge flares for many hours.  All of the shores of the island were covered with a heavy oil slick.

     Then in the 1960's the military decided they needed this spot for radar tracking stations to use for the Apollo Spacecraft launches down in Cape Canaveral Florida.  So, they confiscated over half of the island and pushed the residents off.  They have since torn down most of the installations, and according to Rodrick they wanted to put in some canals for ease of access.  But, another federal agency is fighting them on it, so it has been let go for now.  Now huge tracts of land are supposedly a "nature preserve." But there are no trails, no access to the land and no one gets any benefit from that 300,000 plus acres.

     Rodrick pities those with cars - with the loss of the fishing industry all four gas stations that used to be on the island have closed.  Now residents have to drive twenty to thirty miles to get gasoline for their cars.  There is talk of a small country store getting gas pumps, but right now they are hung up on regulations.

     Rodney is no fan of regulations - he talks about how the fishing industry has been hurt so bad by laws piled on top of laws that Rangers and Fish and Wildlife management folks now outnumber fisherman by a margin of two to one.  Between largely unregulated imports of seafood, the tough restrictions on US fishermen and the problems that poorly designed laws have caused there isn't much way for a fellow to support a family from the sea anymore.

     For instance, he says, all manner of restriction has been put on harvesting large predator fish. This has just about wiped out the populations of smaller fish and other species like squid.  And with all of the fisheries shut down, he figures that the era has passed.  It would take too much to get the industry back up and going.

     They were talking about one young fellow who inherited twenty thousand dollars from his mother last year and spent most of it on crab pots.  Those "in the know" hate it for this fellow, because they "know" the game is so rigged against him that he won't be able to make a living.  They respect that he wants to carry on a tradition, but wish he had spent his money going to school somewhere and learning a viable trade.

     How long will it take until the expansion of the "McMansion" areas to the south take over these areas too?  There are mixed feelings, and while land owners would like to be able to get out they also don't want to let go of what was not that long ago.  

     But, remember, these people have been wresting life from the sea for several centuries now - they are very creative people and of a hardy stock.  Given the least opportunity they will make something work - I wouldn't be against them just yet.

     Today's "Faces in the Crowd" photos - the first is of a rather cantankerous fellow who dissuaded me from taking photos at one of the abandoned fisheries.

     And after his bleating and thrashing about, there was no way I was going to risk anything with this guy.

     Which brings us to today's parting shot.

     I guess the yacht clubs are already moving in.

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Have a great day !!

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