| August 4, 2013
have spoken about the resources with which our community has to work.
Some are not tangible but have a powerful effect on the quality of life
on the island. Others are obvious.
Ocracoke Real Estate:
A struggle to sustain the fishing village atmosphere
By B.J. OELSCHLEGEL
I see our natural
setting, protected by The National Park Service, as a valuable asset.
We can rest assured that our beach will generally look the same through
the decades. How we get to use the beach may change, but development
will not alter the face of such a perfect environmental event. Born out
of the natural setting, are the activities which involve the water and
keep our guests coming back. This same environment has provided a way
of life and a chance to make a living through fishing, which predates
the tourist trade. The workings of a small fishing village are an
attraction unto themselves.
Friendly people and a laid-back
attitude round out a picture that produces a passion in our visitors,
leading them to come back year after year and causing tears as they
depart on the ferry.
After the planning board meeting in July,
it was apparent that we are placing this passion in jeopardy. What I am
hearing from my own customers in The Slushy Stand, as well as from
neighboring store owners, is that the village is losing this appeal,
the historic and quaint feel of a fishing village. The guests have gone
so far as to beg for something to be done about the changing face of
Right after that somewhat contentious meeting in July,
I heard an interview with a director of a documentary on sustainable
living. He was speaking about sustainable communities, such as the
movement in Durham. I didn’t pick up on the details about Durham
because I fixated on a statement he used -- “Community is the secret
ingredient of sustainability; without that sense of community, it can’t
If you Google “sustainability,” you will find a simple definition -- “the capacity to endure.”
article talked about the actions of today not having negative effects
for future generations. Based on the current scuttle around the number
of signs and the occurrence of pop-up businesses, I am hearing a desire
for discussion about our sense of community and the picture which we
Folks have told me that we are ruining the “goose
that lays the golden egg.” There is a fear that it won’t take very many
years before we see a drop off in the number of visitors because we
have lost our unique flavor.
The most visual of concerns was
described to me as “the stadium effect.” The guy in the front row
stands up to make himself heard. The guy behind him has to stand up
just to see. Before you know it, everyone in that section is standing
up to get what they came for, a chance to see.
situation, when one person puts out a sign or a sandwich board, the
next store owner might feel that putting out two signs will gain more
attention. It doesn’t take long before the streets of the village
become destinations for signs, flags, and sandwich boards instead of
the opportunity for riders or people strolling to see the life on the
Why would they come to Ocracoke, when they could just
as easily go to their local big-time beaches and witness that
competition for the dollar?
I think that it is a question of
what we value in this community, and that will require a lot of lively
discussion and hard work. Living on an island requires a degree of
resiliency to weather storms, ferry troubles, or delayed essential
The Ocracoke population is strong and hardy. The
folks who choose this way of life are creative, smart, and resourceful.
I have always felt that no problem was insurmountable for this
We have had more than one occasion to band together
and make something happen. I clearly remember the village’s response to
the surprise vote on a county occupancy tax which was taken while our
commissioner was in Miami, at a hurricane conference. We were quick,
effective and successful in moving the proceeds of that levy from the
county coffers to an island fund. My point is that we have the
where-with-all to tackle anything.
People are talking amongst
themselves. I have had locals stop me and tell me that they agree with
the idea of trying to preserve our historic village atmosphere. It was
what drew them here in the beginning.
Now is the time for
people to bring these opinions out into the open -- to make sure that
the powers that be hear the will of the people. This too is a problem
that can be solved.
Oelschlegel has lived on Ocracoke Island for more than 30 years and has
worked in the real estate business for almost as long. She is a
broker with Ocracoke’s Lightship Realty and a real estate columnist for
The Ocracoke Observer. You can reach her by e-mail at [email protected])