Nestled on 29 acres within the grounds of Historic Corolla Park — near the inland waterway of Currituck Sound — is the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education.
As cars slowly putter through dense traffic on a hot summer morning, a boat approaches the docks by the educational center’s building. Sharon Meade, curator and community services liaison for the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, is arriving for another day in the office.
“The summertime here, it can be a little stressful, but the boat ride evens you right out,” says Meade with a contented sigh.
Meade, who grew up in southern Chesapeake, Virginia — just six miles across the North Carolina/Virginia state line — has deep family roots in Currituck and the Outer Banks. She moved back to Currituck nearly 30 years ago.
“I’m making ‘The Big U’ if I drive,” she says “It’s four miles across and takes me about 15 minutes [by boat]. And you have to look at horrible sunrises and sunsets,” she laughs. “You have to watch out for crab buoys, that’s about it. Keep an eyeball to the weather. It’s good for your brain. It gives you a moment to think. You calm down. It gives you a sense of renewal. Of course, I like being outside.”
That love of the outdoors coupled with her love of the cultural history of her family and the area plays perfectly into Meade’s job at the Center.
Beginning first as the Currituck Wildlife Guild, Meade was responsible for curating a collection of items that celebrated the area’s history of duck hunting and fishing. The Guild went on to purchase the Whalehead Club before being approached by the Wildlife Resources Commision to be the coastal branch of their regional education centers.
“It’s an interesting job. You deal with people every day. People have amazing stories and history. Someone comes in the door and you learn something you never knew. I rely heavily on people to share their things with us. When it all comes down to it, there’s where the whole story is: how people came and things changed over the years. “
The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education has grown to showcase a lot more than just the collection of decoys and relics of hunting and fishing that belonged to the Guild.
“It really is a really nice little encapsulation of the cottage industry that was duck hunting and the cultural and natural history of Currituck, now it formed and how the sound formed, what makes barrier islands, how inlets form. We go from cultural to natural, back to conservation in the end.”
Though the Center has a small staff, they work hard to foster community engagement through hands-on education and allowing visitors to work side by side with scientists.
“We’ve got biologists on staff and educators. If we can share that cultural history and tie it in with the natural history, bring it all the way back to conservation and stewardship, then we hope we can make a difference and change some points of view.”
Conservation is important to Meade, not just because of her job.
“If you don’t save your cultural history — and, of course, in order to do that you have to save your natural world, as well — how will you know where you are? You could be anywhere. It’s important to hold on to,” she explains when asked what makes the Outer Banks so special.
“The resource is not finite. It’s never going to get any easier. Habitats are being squeezed, so we see things that we’ve never used to.”
Meade encourages people not to be scared of the outdoors but, rather, to learn and explore. She argues that by learning about the local environment, fear can be replaced by respect.
“I’m not looking for people to jump over a mountain. Say we do a class called “Bear Necessities,” you learn about bear habitats and babies and how they grow and that this is what they need. So maybe you can at one point translate this bear is not going to hurt me and I can go into this backyard,” she explains.
“Statistics are slowing proving it, that’s healthier for you to be outside. It’s good for your blood pressure. It’s good for your eyesight. A generation that misses out on it is doing serious detriment to themselves. I always look at it that way: It’s healthy to be outside, to know what’s outside in your surroundings.”
“You can only hope you can start a little ball, maybe a little pebble rolling down the hill and hopefully it will pick up momentum and kids will want to be outside more. In the end we can hope. We can start them here,” she says of the Center. “Everybody’s wilderness has their own scale.”
“A little knowledge can go an awful long way,” says Meade. “This is our little corner. I guard it, because it matters to me. This place and what we do matters to me. It keeps you motivated.”