The Outer Banks is home to three national parks — Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, and Wright Brothers National Memorial — and a recently formed local group, Outer Banks Forever, wants to make sure people don’t miss them.
One management group known as the National Park Service Outer Banks Group manages the trilogy of national parks. Within the parks, five park stores are operated by Eastern National, a nonprofit cooperating association of NPS that was formed in 1947, by a group of NPS historians with the goal of supporting the parks through education and financial support. Together, the two organizations identified needs that were unmet in the area and opportunities for financial support.
To satisfy those needs, Eastern National created a new locally focused branch of support known as Outer Banks Forever, the official nonprofit fundraising partner of the three national parks on the Outer Banks.
“It’s really unique to have three national parks here,” says Jessica Green, director of Outer Banks Forever, adding the organization's mission "is to ensure that future generations continue to learn, grow, and create memories through history, conservation, and the celebration of innovation.”
Green says they hope to achieve that goal “through engaging current and future visitors through philanthropy, education, volunteerism, and partnerships.”
As the organization plans specific actions to support the parks, it looks locally for guidance, working to fill needs as prioritized by NPS Outer Banks Group.
“They’ll let us know what’s most important to them,” she says.
National Parks of Eastern N.C. Superintendent, David Hallac applauds the group's mission.
“Outer Banks Forever is the right organization to help the parks protect their unique treasures, tell important stories about America’s incredible history, and create exceptional experiences for community members and visitors from around the world,” Hallac says.
It's a mutual admiration society, Green says.
“I’m really impressed with the National Park Service staff here,” she says referencing the NPS’s desire to work with the community and make sure that the Cape Hatteras National Seashore remains accessible to locals and visitors, while still preserving the area and protecting the environment.
Much of that effort to work with locals while preserving and protecting the parks has blossomed under the guidance of Hallac. While previous years had seen clashes between the park service and both visitors and locals, that tension has since relaxed, she says.
“That is part of what helped get things started," Green says. "We felt the change in the community’s view of the Parks had begun changed in the past couple years.”
The nonprofit’s first order of business is to resurrect the Adopt-A-Pony program that draws awareness of the legendary Ocracoke ponies, she says.
Believed to have arrived on Ocracoke by swimming to the small island after shipwrecks in the 16th and 17th centuries, the wild pony herd lends a spark of magic and history to the island of Ocracoke.
Through a financial contribution, donors can symbolically adopt one of the Ocracoke ponies, Green says. Adopters can select a specific pony from Outer Banks Forever’s website. All donations will be used to support the cost of caring for the beloved animals. Anyone who "adopts" a pony will receive a certificate of their symbolic adoption, a photograph of their chosen pony, and, of course, the opportunity to wave "hello" to their pony should adopters also make a visit to the Pony Pens on Ocracoke Island.
Outer Banks Forever is also working to place webcams on Bodie Island and Hatteras Lighthouses, so people can always have a piece of the Outer Banks, regardless of where they are located.
“Not only do we feel like visitors who love the OBX would enjoy watching a footage from the lighthouses, some people aren’t able to take part in climbing the lighthouse," she says. "Having a webcam available would help expand the accessibility of the experience."
Outer Banks Forever is also planning events in July — to mark the 20th anniversary of the moving of Hatteras Lighthouse, and to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first human steps taken on the moon (taken by Commander Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969, as part of NASA's Apollo 11 lunar mission).
On the date of the first moon landing, hundreds of locals journeyed to the Wright Brothers National Memorial — site of the first successful, sustained, powered flights in a heavier-than-air machine — to watch the historic event unfold.
Green hopes these and future events will engage the community and visitors alike with the hope of supplying the local National Parks with both volunteer and financial support.
“Right now, we’re just trying to get our name out and let people know we are here,” Green says.
For those who want to get involved in the organization, Green says, “I’m always available.”