May 6, 2011

Kinnakeet potluck introduces the Saltwater Connections team to Avon


On Tuesday evening, May 3, a group of Avon locals met at the fire station for a community potluck dinner, one of many that are orchestrated throughout the year and sponsored by the Kinnakeet Civic Association.

But on this occasion, the 30 to 40 locals in attendance had some special guests. The dinner was a stop for the Saltwater Connections resource team, which was taking a week-long tour of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, and Avon.

The goal of the Saltwater Connections team was to talk with local residents and get a feel of what issues were prevalent in the community, what goals they hoped to accomplish in the future, and then process this information into a list of obtainable suggestions and recommendations for short-term and long-term action items.

The visiting team included John Morck, Chuck Halsall, and Brad Hufford from the North Carolina Department of Commerce; Sally Peterson from the North Carolina Arts Council; Pat Long from the East Carolina University Center for Sustainable Tourism; Jimmy Johnson with the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program; Sara Mirabilio with North Carolina Sea Grant; Susan Sachs from Starfire Consulting; Karen Amspacher from Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, and Mikki Sager from the Resourceful Communities Program.

Throughout the week, the team took a walking tour of Avon Village, stopped by the Village Grocery, both post offices, and the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station. Schedules of their visits were disbursed throughout the community so that everyone would have an opportunity to stop by one of the team’s locales, and chat with them, one on one, on their concerns and suggestions.

But the well-attended potluck dinner was a particularly special stop.  Not only did the team have a chance to chat with a wide range of Avon residents, but the evening featured a “conversation with village elders,” or as KCA President Jenn Augustson put it in her introduction to the session, “seasoned natives.”

After a feast of homemade dishes, ranging from fresh pasta salads to fudge, the room received a brief introduction to the Saltwater Connections team from member Mikki Sager.

“We’re about getting coastal communities to come together over shared interests and goals.  The idea is how you can build on what you got to create economic opportunities,” explained Sager. “This is about the wisdom coming from the community itself…  In a month or two, we will come back with a report that says ‘This is what we heard, and this is what we recommend.’

“There will be funding available at the end of this so villages can start some projects,” Sager added.

After the introduction, moderator Scott Dawson lead the discussion and asked the seasoned natives, Manson and Vera Meekins, Lori O’Neal, Gloria O’Neal, and Carol Dillon to share their stories of growing up on Hatteras Island.

The folks in the room smiled at their memories of livestock roaming free around the village, driving up and down the beach to get to the ferry that would take them over Oregon Inlet, and fun nights at local dance halls in Avon and other villages.

Vera Meekins even recalled connecting with one particular gentleman at the dance hall. It was Manson, whom she married and spent the next 68 years with.

Throughout the conversations with the seasoned natives, locals would pipe up with their suggestions and concerns for the future of Avon village. These suggestions, both big and small, were a wide spectrum of ideas and on-the-spot brainstorming and included:

  • Sidewalks for Avon village
  • Walking tour brochures of the community, pointing out lesser known community landmarks
  • A collection of home-based businesses in the village, similar to Ocracoke Island
  • The incorporation of Avon village as a town and the benefits of tax monies going back into the community versus the cost of providing town police, trash removal, and other county sponsored services
  • The preservation of local history, as remembered and narrated by the seasoned natives
  • Providing mailboxes for Avon
  • Affordable housing for locals
  • The preservation of the Avon harbor, and the local graveyards
But, of course, the major concern in the room when it came to the future of Hatteras Island was beach access.

Buxton visitors Bob Davis, Barbara Ackley, and John Couch, all spoke up and alerted the Saltwater Connections team to issues the island has had with the National Park Service and beach access, from the initial promises of the National Park Service when the National Seashore was established to the struggles and loss of income local businesses are currently facing with the recent full closure of Cape Point.

The room became grave as everyone chimed in on their frustration with the issue, from the mass killings of local geese, foxes, and other wildlife for the birds’ protection to the folks who grew up learning to swim in the waters just south of the Point and are not able to teach their children how to swim the same way. 

Throughout the discussion, the Saltwater Connections team listened attentively and clearly heard the locals’ concerns.

Though the beach access issue may have ended the evening on a more somber note, the event was still a successful sharing of ideas and potential projects and an informative introduction to the history, spirit, and possible future of Avon village.

The Saltwater Connections team will continue its tour with later visits, probably in the fall, to Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras.

After its visit this week, the team will begin working on a report on what the members heard, and what they recommend as far as next steps, and ways to achieve these long-term goals.

For more information on Saltwater Connections, contact Susan West at 252-995-4131.

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