Hatters Island has multi-use pathways running parallel to N.C. Highway 12 in five of its seven villages. Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, and Avon had a pedestrian-and-bike friendly pathway installed roughly a decade ago, while Hatteras village wrapped up its pathway project in late 2021.
But what about Buxton and Frisco?
A multi-use pathway for these busy villages has been in the works for years, (if not decades), but for a long stretch of time, there was little forward movement on making a new pathway come to fruition.
Now, however, there are two concurrent efforts to install multi-use pathways in different regions of Buxton and Frisco, and both projects are gaining steam.
One project is being managed by the National Park Service in conjunction with the non-profit organization Outer Banks Forever to create a pathway that eventually extends from N.C. Highway 12 to the entrance of the Cape Point Campground – a popular part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore which includes the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the historic Buxton British Cemetery, and multiple hiking and walking trails.
The other project is spearheaded by the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway Committee for Dare County and the Frisco-Buxton Pathway Committee, and it focuses on a 7.6-mile pathway that will run parallel to N.C. Highway 12, and which will extend from the Valero Gas Station, (next to the Fessenden Center Annex building in Buxton), to the Frisco Bathhouse, just south of Frisco village’s borders.
There has been big progress on both projects in the past few weeks, so here’s a closer look at both pathway endeavors, their current status, and what happens next.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Pathway
In 1984 the Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS) prepared a General Management plan which featured a number of proposed projects in the Buxton area, including a multi-use pathway on Lighthouse Road.
Nearly 40 years later, this pathway is on the verge of being introduced to the public.
“We’ve been doing some informal investigations about the feasibility of installing a multi-use path from N.C. Highway 12 to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse,” said David Hallac, National Parks of Eastern North Carolina Superintendent. “And we worked with Outer Banks Forever, who helped us get a grant from Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative. That grant, combined with some financial support from Outer Banks Forever, helped us hire contractors to begin to do some design work for this project.”
The pathway will be installed in three phases. The first phase covers the stretch from N.C. Highway 12 to the lighthouse, the second phase focuses on the area from the Buxton Beach Day Use Area to the Buxton Lifeguarded Beach, while the third phase covers the stretch of roadway from the lighthouse to the Cape Point campground.
“The way we’re approaching the design is [to create] a conceptual plan, or master plan, for all three phases, and then we’ll really focus on phase 1 so that construction can begin in the next 18 months or so,” said Hallac.
Following the standard National Park Service procedures, an Environmental Assessment is being prepared to present to the public in a 30-day scoping period. At that time, the project will be introduced via an in-person public meeting in Buxton, (along with plans for the ongoing Cape Hatteras Lighthouse restoration), which will likely be held before the end of May.
“We will probably have that announcement [of the meeting] in the next two or three weeks,” said Hallac.
Assuming all goes as scheduled, a contractor for the lighthouse pathway project may be selected by the end of the summer.
“One of the reasons this project is so exciting is that it will tie in with other projects, like the [Buxton-Frisco Pathway,]” said Hallac. “The idea of connecting the villages is really exciting to us.”
More information on the upcoming Environmental Assessment, which will outline the project details, as well as the future public meeting will be published in the Island Free Press as soon as it becomes available, and likely in the not-so-distant future.
7.6-mile Buxton and Frisco Pathway
The larger of the two projects, the 7.6-mile pathway for Buxton and Frisco, has been a years-long initiative.
The Hatteras Island community got its first look at the proposed Buxton and Frisco pathway at a 2019 open house, which stemmed from a feasibility study that was applied for by the Dare County Board of Commissioners in 2018, and which was conducted by engineering firm VHB.
Since that open house, the project drifted out of the public eye, as eventual funding for the $3.5 million project remained a question, and a barrier.
But movement on the Buxton-Frisco pathway project gained some serious momentum in the last month, thanks to the introduction of a new potential grant from the National Scenic Byway program.
Mary Helen Goodloe-Murphy and Laura Ertle of the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway Committee for Dare County explained the importance of this new grant to the Dare County Board of Commissioners (BOC) at their April 4 meeting.
The Outer Banks Scenic Byway was established in 2009, and it’s one of only 150 National Byways in the country. In addition to increasing visitation to the islands, this National Scenic Byway designation helped pave the way for similar pathway-funding grants in the past, and specifically, for the pathways built on northern Hatteras Island.
“For the first time in nine years, the National Scenic Byway program has announced a [new] grant program” said Goodloe-Murphy at the April 4 meeting. “This is a similar grant program to the one that funded the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo and Avon pathways in 2010.”
Essentially, the grant application for the Buxton-Frisco pathway would be a request to fund the first two phases of the project, for a total cost of $2 million. This would cover the 4.41-mile stretch of roadway from the Cape Hatters Secondary School in Buxton to Piney Ridge Road in Frisco, which was identified by the public as the highest-priority stretch of the future pathway at the 2019 Open House.
The national grant program will provide 80% funding for the project, but it will require 20% in matching funds.
At the April 4 BOC meeting, the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway Committee requested that the Board submit a letter of intent in conjunction with the grant application, (serving as the financier of the project), and also approach the Dare County Tourism Board for a long-term, unappropriated grant of $200,000 to cover the matching funds for the first $1 million phase of the project.
Before voting, Commissioner Danny Couch asked Goodloe-Murphy what she thought the chances were of receiving the requested grant funds.
“I think we’re in a very good position in terms of being able to tell the national folks, ‘look, you already funded eight miles of pathway on this island, let’s finish the job,” she said. “I think we’ve got a real winning argument on that.”
The BOC passed the resolution regarding the grant application unanimously, and the eventual grant winners will be announced sometime in the summer of 2022.
A second resolution was also passed by the BOC as a first step toward long-term funding for the maintenance of the Buxton and Frisco pathway.
In order to pay for the future maintenance, the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway Committee proposed that a special tax district in southern Buxton and Frisco be established to help provide the annual funding. The district would include all taxable properties in Frisco, and properties in Buxton that are south of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and would not include Buxton properties that are already in the special tax district for upcoming beach nourishment.
Ertle stated at the meeting that one cent on that tax base, which includes 1,607 taxable properties in Frisco and 897 in Buxton, would produce $62,200 annually for the pathway.
With this in mind, Ertle asked the BOC to send a request to the North Carolina General Assembly to introduce and pass legislation that would allow a referendum on the establishment of a special tax district. What this means is that, if the state legislation allowing a referendum is passed, affected Buxton and Frisco community members would be able to vote “yes” or “no” to creating a new tax district at a future general election, and possibly in November 2022. (A somewhat similar referendum in Hatteras village for the Hatteras pathway passed in 2018 with a big majority of 94% “yes” votes to 6% “no” votes.)
“Hanig and Steinburg have agreed to introduce this local legislation,” stated Ertle. “Even if we are successful in winning grant monies and finding the matching funds to construct the pathway, it will still need to be maintained.”
The BOC agreed to move forward, but noted that the annual maintenance costs and the exact tax rate increase would need to be determined in the future.
“There has been some positive buzz about this,” said Couch. “That part of Buxton and Frisco have felt “Well, the other villages have [their pathways], where’s ours?”
While the CHNS pathway on Lighthouse Road will likely be approved and move forward within the year, there is still an uncertain future for the lengthy 7.6-mile pathway in Buxton and Frisco, as there are a number of moving parts to consider.
For one thing, the $2 million national grant will need to be secured, and for another, the voters of Buxton and Frisco will have to agree to a tax increase in order to keep the pathway maintained well into the future.
But there are several factors working in the project’s favor. The need for a pathway is evident to all Buxton and Frisco residents who regularly travel along N.C. Highway 12 among pedestrians, bikers, and vehicles of all sizes.
Perhaps more importantly, the project’s advocates, (and especially the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway Committee under the leadership of Goodloe-Murphy), have moved mountains in the past. The committee was instrumental in establishing the Outer Banks Scenic Byway to begin with, a years-long project that began in 2003, and they were also successful in securing similar grant funds for the pathways in the Tri-villages and Avon a decade or so ago. With the committee’s enthusiasm and stellar success record, there’s ample reason to believe that they will be successful in completing their long-term goal of having a pathway in all seven Hatteras Island villages.
We’ll have a clearer picture of the Buxton and Frisco pathway’s future in the summer, when national grant winners are announced. Until then, the fact that the pathway is back in the headlines and back in the public conversation is a clear sign that after years of waiting, a safer roadway for everyone is likely on the horizon.