Friday, July 21, 2006

Soccer Moms Need Vacations, Too.

I'll probably not be posting much next week. I'll be on a much-needed vacation.

Four miles off the coast of Southport and the mainland, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, is the island of Bald Head. The island is easily identifiable in the distance by the Bald Head Island Lighthouse ("Old Baldy"). Built in 1817 and retired in 1935, the lighthouse is cataloged as the oldest lighthouse in North Carolina.

Once a favorite hiding spot for pirates such as Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet, Bald Head Island is now a residential and resort community of about 220 year-round residents. It can only be reached by the island's private ferry or by personal boat. The island is open to the public, and the summer population can reach from 4,000 to 6,000, with visitors renting vacation homes and playing golf.

It is probably safe to say this is one of the most unspoiled beach and maritime forest areas on the North Carolina coast. The island's natural beauty is protected, despite residential development as well as a few commercial amenities such as a restaurant, bed and breakfast inns, general store with deli, marina, golf course, specialty store, and golf cart and bike rental business.

The island has 14 miles of beaches, dunes, creeks and forests. The 2,000 acres of land are surrounded by 10,000 acres of salt marshes. The owners have deeded nearby Middle Island and Bluff Island to the state and The Nature Conservancy. The Bald Head Island Conservancy, a nonprofit organization, was formed to ensure that the unique natural resources of the island are maintained and preserved.

Turtle nesting on Bald Head Island accounts for 50 percent of all turtle eggs laid in North Carolina. The Sea Turtle Program, featured on public television, protects and monitors these wonderful creatures. There is an Adopt-a-Nest Program that pairs concerned humans with turtles in an effort to protect the nest and encourage the hatchlings toward the sea. Studies in which female turtles were tagged have revealed that pregnant turtles return to the same site to lay eggs every other year. Due to the many species of birds found on the island, the Audubon Society conducts an annual count here as part of its national program.

Something quite special about the island is the absence of cars. Gasoline-powered engines, with the exception of security and maintenance vehicles, are not allowed. The residents and visitors who rent homes all drive electric carts or ride bicycles. The resulting lack of noise pollution and exhaust fumes is one of the finest features of the place.

A visitor can come for the day by private ferry service from Indigo Plantation in Southport. For a longer stay, there are many rental units on the island. The cost, compared to rental on much of the mainland, is slightly on the upper end, but so is the experience for the visitor who wants to really get away from it all in quiet style.

Despite Bald Head Island's private status, the welcome mat is always out for visitors. The lighthouse can be toured for a small fee. The well-appointed marina welcomes transients.

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