The title of this column may imply that I am going to be talking about how to bring down a mythical creature of the night, but I am not.
Last week the Outer Banks experienced a typical winter nor’easter. It was cold, wet and very windy. The wind generated a large ocean swell, and that swell packed a punch. A few places saw the water punch through along the Banks, and other spots took some damage from it. One of those places was the Rodanthe Pier.
Wooden piers on the Outer Banks — and the rest of the Eastern Seaboard for that matter — are an easy target during a coastal storm.
Over its 50-year lifetime, the Rodanthe Pier has seen its fair share of damage and this recent storm is just another chapter. The pier lost about 80 feet or so to last week’s storm.
Any loss is sad, but this one has to sting the owners a bit, since they had just put a fair amount of work into that section not long ago. It also hurt because the owners had some new pilings delivered just days before the storm to shore up the end of the pier.
Owning a wooden pier anywhere is a tough business.
I grew up on wooden piers and even had the pleasure of working on the Rodanthe Pier for a few years before Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
In today’s economy, there isn’t a lot of profit to be had just running a fishing pier. Constant repairs that are often thousands upon thousands of dollars chew away at the profit margin.
What about insurance you ask?
Well, actress-singer Jennifer Lopez actually got Lloyd’s of London to insure her buttocks and that was much easier than getting a policy for a wooden pier in the ocean. You are probably not going to find any company willing to issue a policy, and, if you did, the premium would be unaffordable.
The insurance companies already know that no matter what, at some point in time, they will pay out and more than likely pay out big.
So, the stakes of owning a wooden pier are big, and owners are not in it for the profit. They own these piers because they love them and the communities they are located in.
Over the years, the Outer Banks has seen a fair amount of damage to its piers. Kitty Hawk Pier has been more of a small dock since Hurricane Isabel.
Jennette’s Pier was all but done for, until the state came in and rebuilt an all new facility complete with more stable, concrete pilings. Frisco Pier has long been closed. It has been purchased by the National Park Service, which plans to tear down what remains of it.
The fee for fishing on most these piers varies and, generally, is a mere $10-$15 for a day of fishing per person.
I’ve read and heard comments that this cost is too much, but is it?
Sure, when I was a kid, the fee was maybe $5 or less to fish all day on the piers I grew up on.
If anyone has taken a family of four to the movies of late, then you would know that you drop $50 for two hours of what might be good or bad entertainment.
Spending $50 for a family of four to have 14 hours or more of what might be good or bad fishing seems like a good deal to me, especially considering you don’t need a fishing license to be on a pier.
In the end, with the cost of construction and maintenance, the fishing fees couldn’t cover the upkeep and still be reasonable to the public.
Some local piers have looked to alternatives to offset the rising cost.
Gary Oliver, owner of the Outer Banks Pier along with his son Ryan, opened a seaside bar a few years ago called Fish Heads.
They offer a variety of cold beers and fried food in a partially covered deck, with live music most nights in the summer. Their success is obvious, as it’s almost impossible to get into the parking lot in the afternoon. The owners of the Nags Head Pier took note of the success and built an outdoor bar themselves.
It’s a great supplement for those who have the room on the pier and the parking lot and the capital to do so, but it’s not an answer for every pier.
So, what can we do to keep these piers alive?
Well, we can start by just using them, whether to sightsee, fish, or hangout — every dollar spent helps.
When a pier takes damage, there is almost assuredly going to be fundraising efforts to help rebuild. But, once again, there is not a long-term solution. The right amount of damage could be the end of any of the local piers.
So, the owners of these wooden piers will have to continue to stress out every time the meteorologist hints at a storm or hurricane.
Ultimately, there will come an end to an era for the wooden piers on the East Coast, so we should all enjoy them however and whenever we can.
You can find out more about donating to rebuild Rodanthe Pier at http://www.gofundme.com/rodanthepier.
(Rob Alderman has lived on the Outer Banks for more than 13 years and has worked in the recreational fishing industry the entire time. A former variety fishing TV show host, beach fishing guide, tackle shop and pier employee, Rob currently owns and operates Outer Banks Kayak Fishing. He is on the Pro-Staff of Bending Branches LLC, Wilderness Systems Kayaks, Release Reels, Yakattack and is an ambassador for Ugly Stik. You can follow his adventures at www.FishMilitia.com or OuterBanksKayakFishing.com.)