Posts Tagged ‘Old Baldy’

Bald Head Island, NC, revisited

September 27, 2012

We returned to lovely and car-free Bald Head Island, NC, last weekend, partly to check out the new Barrier Island Study Center and also for my final stop (at the Bald Head Island Club) as a judge in the NC Best Dish contest (more on that in another post).

Afterglow of sunset over Southport, NC

The 20-minute ferry ride from Southport started things off on a high note – we had a glowing pink and orange sunset and even saw a pair of cavorting dolphins. We stayed at a lovely house near the ocean, which was quite the treat. We could hear the waves as long as the neighbors’ air conditioning units weren’t humming. (We thought AC was totally unnecessary!) BHI is a somewhat odd mix — an upscale “gated community” feel with a true conservation mission, and a blend of high-income homeowners and the hoi polloi, like us.

Front view of Barrier Island Study Center

The Barrier Island center is a new addition to the Bald Head Island Conservancy, whose mission is to “foster barrier island conservation, education, and preservation to live in harmony with nature.” The Conservancy has long been associated with its protection of sea turtles, which nest in the dunes. (This year’s tally: 70 nests and 63 hatchings — so far!)

I should add here a bit about Bald Head Island, which along with Middle and Bluff islands, makes up the Smith Island complex, which includes 10 miles of beach and dunes, 10,000 acres of salt marsh, and 4,000 acres of barrier island upland and maritime forests. And let me also define barrier island: A relatively narrow strip of sand parallel to the mainland coast that creates a barrier system. I’ll let you in on a secret: the “island“ is really Bald Head Island Peninsula, since Hurricane Floyd (1999) filled an inlet with sand, but let’s not tell anyone.

Tom Hancock, director of conservation at the Bald Head Island Conservancy

The Conservancy runs many nature and education programs, but has long been known as a  “turtles and t-shirts,” spot, said Tom Hancock, director of conservation, during a tour he gave us. Now, because of the study center, it is poised to become a nexus of barrier-island research in a major way, including offering university students semesters “abroad.” Findings here will benefit all barrier- island communities. The energy-efficient building is gorgeous, especially because of the light filtered throughout both floors and the stairs, floors, and doorways made of reclaimed pine salvaged from the Cape Fear River. The study center’s lobby is now the main visitor information stop for the Conservancy, so do check out the building and the Conservancy’s activities. Amazingly, the center was funded solely from grants and private donations, many from residents.

Diane kayaks under blue skies along a tributary of Bald Head Creek

Afterward, we rode on the beach cruisers that came with our condo (thank you!) to Riverside Adventure Co., where we hopped into kayaks and tooled along Bald Head Creek, taking narrower and narrower tributaries, flanked by reeds. Beautiful and peaceful! From a distance, we heard the wedding march from Village Chapel next to Old Baldy, the state’s oldest-standing lighthouse (from 1817), which gleamed in the late afternoon sun. What a day!

Lina enjoys a tailwind on the ride back from Bald Head Island State Natural Area

On Sunday, following a tip from Dr. Tom, we directed the cruisers into a wicked headwind along the packed-down beach toward Fort Fisher State Recreation Area until, at Lina’s urging, we reached Bald Head Island State Natural Area, an area so remote you feel shipwrecked — that is until you see the official marker. An awesome tailwind took us back to civilization quickly, a good thing because the tide was coming in.

We capped the outing by cycling along one of our favorite spots — Cape Creek Road, a dirt road along Middle Island that feels like a step back in time and conjures images of early settlers who once called this land home. I wonder what it will all look like 100 years from now!

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NC Island attracts feathered and furry friends

July 22, 2010

During a recent visit to Oak Island, NC, we could see Old Baldy, the lighthouse on Bald Head Island, in a distance. We have fond memories of our 2008 visit to the island. Read on for the story published August 24, 2008, in the Boston Globe.

Old Baldy, or the Bald Head Island Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in N.C.

BALD HEAD ISLAND, N.C. – Golf carts glided by as our small group stood by the road listening to Maureen Dewire, our guide, play one of her favorite songs: the high-pitched call of the painted bunting. She aimed her iPod with attached speaker toward where she thought one of the brightly colored birds was perched.

“Let’s see if we can get his attention,” she said.

The bird answered back, and she spotted him high up on a newly leafing limb. “They’re here all summer, but you don’t see them because the males stop singing by late July,” Dewire, 30, said of the painted buntings, which winter in South Florida, Cuba, and the Bahamas.

Maureen Dewire (on left) gets attention of painted bunting with bird sounds on iPod

The painted bunting’s rainbow of colors – red chest, blue head, green back – make it arguably North America’s most spectacular songbird. That’s according to the National Audubon Society. Myself, I had never heard of them until the day before, when I arrived. Bald Head Island’s maritime forest preserve has one of the country’s largest populations of breeding buntings, so I decided I had to see one.

For years I had ignored this car-free island on the southeast tip of North Carolina because I assumed it was all one big development with a golf course. I was partly right. At the bottom of Smith Island, measuring one mile wide and three miles long, there are some 1,060 homes and condos, and about 1,000 more to come, most being built by Bald Head Island Limited.

But that’s only part of the story. I discovered on a springtime visit that 10,000 of the island’s 12,000 acres have been set aside for conservation. And what is being preserved is worth checking out.

Old boathouse on Bald Head Creek

Our painted bunting sighting came after a two-hour hike filled with natural treasures. We were on the Creek Trail in the Bald Head Woods Coastal Reserve, where you can hear waves crashing on the beach in the distance. The nearly mile-long trail had been cut recently by volunteers and staff at the independent, nonprofit Bald Head Island Conservancy, where Dewire is senior naturalist. The conservancy runs programs year-round, has a gift shop and visitors center, and is raising money to build a barrier-island research facility. It also coordinates the nationally recognized Sea Turtle Protection Program, since the island is an important nesting site from May through October.

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