Though there is no official word yet on when public facilities in North Carolina’s wildlife refuges will reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge will be ready to welcome visitors, as they wrap up the final touches on an extensive inside-and-out renovation.
“We are close enough, [that] we could open now,” stated a representative from the refuge. “We are just adding a row of cable under the handrails.”
The large project to protect the visitor center was spearheaded by the Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society, a non-profit organization that helps support and maintain national wildlife refuges all across the state.
“We provided funding for the original building, and have provided [funds] for additions and improvements since 1995, when it was first built,” said Mike Bryant of the Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society in a previous interview. “With storms and beach erosion that has occurred over time, the building has become more threatened by overwash events, and our friends group wanted to help the refuge to get the building elevated as an intermittent measure to protect the visitor center.”
The project was first discussed in the winter and fall of 2019, and was planned for the spring 2020 months when visitation to the refuge was relatively low. The COVID-19 pandemic obviously shuttered the visitor center for the majority of the spring, but work continued on raising the building and making it safer during bouts of ocean overwash.
Two contractors were involved in the process – a house-moving company that conducted the actual raising of the structure, and a pilings expert who added new pilings once the center was up the air. The building was then lowered on its new, elevated foundation, and new stairs and ramps were also added to the structure for easier access.
The visitor center is now five feet higher than its original elevation, which will hopefully keep it protected from future storms.
In the past few days, workers and volunteers have been completing the final tasks to make the visitor center ready to go, once it is officially allowed to reopen to the public.
“Today, the parts and pieces on the inside of the building were put back together,” stated the refuge in a social media update on Tuesday. “Decks and railings are done. WHAT A VIEW! You can see the Oriental [shipwreck] from the window.”
For more information on the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, or to make a donation, visit the Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society website at https://www.coastalwildliferefuge.com/. Donations can be made online via https://www.coastalwildliferefuge.com/donate.html.