The Regional Review

Volume I - No. 1

July, 1938


By William J. Howard,
Wildlife Technician

The conservation movement, as we know it, began during the administration of Theodore Roosevelt when interested persons began to realize the period of exploitation would have to come to an end and a long range program of management established if public and private lands were to be put to their best and sanest uses. Although the idea of land use was born almost four decades ago, it was not until the beginning of the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt that the, theories of utilization began to be practiced upon a wide scale.

One-crop farming in the South and the West, despoliation of lands by neglect which led to erosion, and use of public lands for a single purpose--when it was obvious that multiple use would be to the best interests of the public--allied to the questions of what to do with the marginal and submarginal lands and whether certain lands which possessed qualities for the needs of the great mass of the people should not be removed from private hands and placed in public ownership.

Along with this philosophy there developed the concept that outdoor recreation is not only an adjunct to welfare, public health, moral growth, and education, but also that it is a very necessary field within itself and that it is the function of governments---federal, state, county, and municipal---as well as private initiative, to furnish the means for this activity.

The "park movement" has developed naturally from this train of thought. Among the wide variety of possible sites for parks, planners finally recognized the fact that a great majority of the seashore is in private ownership and that it was high time adequate portions of unusual merit should be placed under governmental control. One result is that a 120-mile stretch, of the North Carolina Banks has been designated as the Cape Hatteras National Seashore---the first federally owned seashore for recreational purposes in the world.


Now that a considerable parcel of ocean frontage is to be set aside for the enjoyment of the public, it is interesting to speculate upon the purposes it will serve in the years ahead. When the original surveys of the North Carolina coast were made, it was presumed that the Cape Hatteras area would ultimately become simply a large national seashore playground where people would enjoy ocean bathing, hiking, fishing, picnicking, boating, sun bathing, and the activities which are generally associated with beached. Upon more mature thought and extended surveys, it was realized that the National Park Service will come into possession of an area of superlative merit which is suited not only for a single purpose active beach recreation---but also for a wide variety of uses. In all probability the majority of visitors may care most for the orthodox beach activities, but Cape Hatteras offers more, much more.

It was on Roanoke Island that the English-speaking people first attempted to establish themselves on the eastern shore of the Western world. Although they were unsuccessful, they were the forerunners of the great migrations from the British Isles and Central and Northern Europe which finally settled and populated the United States. Today, there are faint reminders of Raleigh's colonists on the Banks. in the artifacts which are occasionally uncovered on the sites of ancient Indian villages. Explorers and colonists left many accounts of their hopes, disappointments, and modes of living, in print and paint, so that it is possible to obtain an authentic picture of their early struggles.

Later colonists bequeathed a part of their culture to the countryside in the fishing villages, the Elizabethan speech which is only now beginning to disappear under the impact of present day speech trends, the English two wheeled carts, and the old customs of the native Bankers. Until a bridge was built to Bodie Island a few years ago the Cape Hatteras region was a land of another and an older century. With its charm of ancient customs, it had also the inconveniences and poverty of a frontier people. Coincidental with the establishment of the National Seashore a part, but not all, of the quaintness of the natives will disappear. We know the Banks folk will not become entirely like those from the "Mainland" because the British cling to their tradition for generations. It is inevitable, but perhaps fortunate, that with a greater influx of outsiders the social, educational, and economic conditions of the natives will improve.

The physiographic features of the Banks will hold a wide appeal to a large number of visitors. The coastal dune scenery can be surpassed nowhere in the United States. The immense rolling dunes, the vast bodies of the Sounds, the blending temperate with subtropical vegetation, the struggle between the wind, sea, and floral life, the march of the dunes over large forest areas, and the occasional storms will attract a number of persons of a wide range of interests, Not only will the National Seashore be chosen by pleasure seekers, but by scientists as well. The geologist, the forester, the plant ecologist, and the zoologist each will find here a vast outdoor laboratory where little previous study has been made. Sustained scientific investigations will undoubtedly further enhance the attractions and lure of this coast country.

From the days of the first white settlers the bird life has played an important part in the lives of the North Carolina coastal people. Early records and paintings tell of an almost unbelievable wealth of waterfowl and terrestrial birds which served as food before the day of the grocery store and the butcher shop. The names of the towns of Kitty Hawk, Duck, and Seagull, Egg Shoal and Gull and Bird Islands bear witness to the important part that birds played in the lives of the original and later settlers.

In the last century the waterfowl of the Carolina Sounds became the prey of market hunters and their plight was to some extent responsible for the present federal laws for the protection of bird life. Not only were the professional hunters interested in the waterfowl, but rich sportsmen organized private hunting clubs, and goose and ducking shooting became one of the main winter industries along the Banks. Within the last few years, because of an alarming scarcity of waterfowl, federal legislation has come to the aid of the birds and they are beginning a comeback. The Sounds and Banks of North Carolina are one of the most important waterfowl wintering areas in the country and certainly the most important along the Atlantic Coast. A visit to the region in the winter months reveals not only hundreds, but tens of thousands of ducks, geese, brant, and whistling swans, feeding and resting in the shallow waters of the lagoons. Estimates as high as a half-million Canada geese within the proposed boundaries of the National Seashore were made last winter. The entire world population of Greater Snow Geese, birds which nest in the Arctics, spend the winter months on Pea and Bodie Islands, and almost all the Whistling Swans of the East visit Currituck Sound for a few months. When the National Seashore becomes a part of the Federal Park System, it will be among the largest and most important migratory waterfowl sanctuaries in the entire country.

If present proposals are approved, the Hatteras region will have the only museum of bird migration in the world. Because of its geographical location and physical features, this part of the coast line offers opportunities for the study of migration and associated aspects of ornithology which are possessed by no other place on earth.

sketch of geese
Field Sketch, courtesy of Walter A. Weber

<<< Previous
> Contents <
Next >>>
Date: 04-Jul-2002