2016: The Outer Banks Year in Review
We’re more than a week into the year 2017, which gives us a little time to think back over 2016—including what has been accomplished, plus moments of joy, surprise and a few times of sadness.
Every year is unique, and the events that go with it are woven into the tapestry of our memory. And in that way, perhaps, each year is also remarkably similar to every other year, which are all marked by the joys, triumphs and tragedies of the passing time.
We can’t cover everything that happened on the Outer Banks in 2016, but here are a few events that we think are worth noting.
Bonner Bridge Groundbreaking – March 9
When the Bonner Bridge was completed in 1963, its lifespan was expected to be 30 years. Somehow NCDOT has managed to keep the link between the northern Outer Banks and Hatteras Island safe long past its predicted replacement year of 1993. Delayed by legal battles, the new span is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2018.
As a design and build project, estimated costs have fluctuated, but the most recent estimate is $240 million.
“This is personal,” said Governor Pat McCrory as he described the long journey for approval to replace the Bonner Bridge. “Because when I first came down here during the first storm I could tell that it was personal for the people of the entire Outer Banks . . . that we better get moving on this bridge.”
New Citizens Welcomed at the Wright Memorial – April 16
The National Park Service celebrated its centennial in 2016, and as part of the celebration, 39 new U.S. citizens were sworn in. It may not have been the most earth shattering event we covered, but it was an emotional and dramatic reminder of what this nation means to so many.
The United States welcomed 39 new citizens to its rolls on Saturday at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Hailing from 23 countries, they raised their right hands and pledged their allegiance, their hopes, their dreams and their love to the United States of America.
Witnessing the event was affirming and powerful—a declaration that this country is seen as offering opportunity and freedom that’s not found everywhere.
Ribbon Cutting for Renovated Aquarium – August 11
To say that the renovated Roanoke Island Aquarium is spectacular would be an understatement. Worth a visit—or rather, make that multiple visits.
With the final touches of a spectacular $6.5 million renovation in place, Governor Pat McCrory cut the ribbon on the new and improved Roanoke Island Aquarium Thursday afternoon.
It has been 16 years since the Roanoke Island Aquarium had last been renovated—and the renovations for this year were delayed by a year to comply with new state guidelines for major projects.
Kitty Hawk Wind Energy Leases Offered – August 17
This is one of those news stories that often gets overlooked, but the future impact of developing North Carolina’s offshore wind energy is very significant. The Kitty Hawk area is the largest on the East Coast and is considered potentially one of the most, if not the most, productive areas from Florida to Maine.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced the Kitty Hawk Wind Energy Area (WEA) would be opening for bids in 2017.
Although there are a number of step still to go, the BOEM is “…hoping to have an auction early next year,” said Tracey Moriarty, the BOEM’s public affairs manager.
What the Weather Brought Us
The Outer Banks may have struggled a bit with its reputation for wonderful weather in 2016. The summer was glorious, but a mid-winter cold snap and two tropical systems in the fall sandwiched our summer and reminded us that Mother Nature really in in control
Of course she did bring us a spectacular light show in September, so we’ll start with that.
Outer Banks Weekend Surf Glows – September 21
Saturday evening was Outer Banks perfection: the temperature held steady around 80, no threat of rain, and magic happened as the sun set. As waves rolled in, the surf began to glow blue and green.
A full moon played hide and seek with clouds, its reflected light flooding the sea in pale yellow and white, but it was the surf that held our attention. As each wave broke millions of points of light spread across their crests, forming solid ribbons of light against a dark and endless sea.
There were heavy duty buckets and basins lining every spare inch of the Roanoke Island Aquarium’s STAR Center. In every bucket there was at least one sea turtle; in the larger ones there were at least two and sometimes three. Most of the turtles were green turtles, with a few Kemps-Ridleys and an occasional loggerhead. Volunteers were everywhere to clean the water, feed the turtles, and monitor their health.
Suffering from cold shock, the turtles started showing up on Hatteras Island beaches almost as soon as temperatures plummeted earlier that week.
Horrible Hermine & the OBX – September 4
It looked as though the Outer Banks was going to be dealing with the lingering effects of Tropical Storm Hermine through for at least two days. And depending on what happened when when it headed out to sea, we knew we could be dealing with the waves it generated for a few days after that. The forecast models consistently showed the storm slowing down or even stalling off the coast of New Jersey and probably re-intensifying.
Hurricane Matthew delivered what is known as a ‘haymaker’ to the Outer Banks—a wild punch that seemed to catch almost everyone by surprise.
By Thursday we knew the weekend was going to be pretty tough—a lot of rain and some very strong winds to go with it. What we got was a maximum force tropical storm or maybe even a minimal Category 1 hurricane; the lines blur when the winds sustain at 65 mph and wind gusts reach 85.
The passage of time is both a joyous and a sad thing, and this year the loss was particularly profound as the Outer Banks community mourned the passing of Frank Gajar, Warren Judge and Mickey McCarthy, three of our own who made our lives so much richer.
Frank Gajar – June 9, 2016
On the Outer Banks Frank Gajar was well known as the owner of Port O’ Call restaurant, and the success of the Kill Devil Hills restaurant and entertainment venue stands as testament to him.
Yet, Port O’ Call is but one part of his story. He was a unique combination of a visionary, a hard-nosed businessman and a philanthropist—and one of his greatest interests was investing in the education of Dare County children.
“I had some mentors when I was growing up who really helped me,” Frank told the North Beach Sun in 2012. “They’re a lot of the reason I got out of where I was and got to where I am today. I feel it is important to give back—to let the kids know how important education is.”
Warren Judge – November 6, 2016
Warren knew politics in a way that very few people do. At a time when politicians are often vilified, he understood that getting things done involve personal relationships and persistence.
Beyond the politics, he was a dedicated family man. He and his wife, Tess, were very successful owners of the Days Inn Hotels and he loved the Outer Banks with an unbridled passion.
Never shy about being in public or making a speech, he will be truly missed.
Mickey McCarthy: An Icon in Outer Banks Photography – December 23, 2016
In Jesse Fernandez’s excellent article on Mickey McCarthy (originally published in the North Beach Sun‘s 2015 print Holiday issue), he noted that Mickey’s “love for the subject matter stems from the fact that no two shots are ever the same. Simple and true, for every wave, every surfer, every swell, there is a difference in every frame.”
Jesse’s article captured Mickey’s astounding talent, and, of course, his legendary charm—which was yet another reminder of how much Mickey will be missed both in our community and beyond.