Preserving Cultural Assets in the Outer Banks

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Written by Emily Prickett, Parks, Recreation and Tourism Major

The Outer Banks contains numerous culturally significant landmarks. Discussions of climate change impacts in this area have started to include those culturally and historically significant sites in the area along with basic needs for living on the island. Recent research has honed in on the impacts climate has on significant sites, particularly those on National Park Service (NPS) land, as they are tasked to maintain and preserve landmarks on their property. In a report from the United States Geological Survey, Dr. Erin Seekamp, now the Goodnight Distinguished Professor and the Director of Coastal Resilience and Sustainability Initiative, introduces a new process of prioritizing projects for these sites (Safeguarding Our Cultural Past from Future Climate Change). Seekamp worked with the National Park Service in 2016 to develop a method to rank the cultural resources of Port Townsend and Cape Lookout to distinguish the priority for protecting and revitalizing these culturally significant places. Rankings of each cultural resource include vulnerability, historical significance, and importance for day-to-day operations and educational efforts. This level of detail for each cultural resource allows management actions and priorities to be based on the different ranking values. Ideally, Seekamp hopes to see this method used for more destinations to help preserve the cultural significance of each location.

Wooden board walk leading to white light house with gray skies and tall grasses in the background.

Ocracoke Lighthouse

This process is relevant once again in the Outer Banks with Ocracoke Lighthouse as the NPS is seeking public comments on the potential best ways to achieve a sustainable solution to the growing issue of climate change and harsh storms that affect the cultural landmarks. Alongside Seekamp’s research, the public’s inputs are considered in the decision process of the NPS to maximize positive results while minimizing negative effects. Important to the area’s history and the surrounding communities, the Ocracoke Lighthouse, which is at risk of degradation from such threats, brings many concerns to the National Park Service to take action. The NPS provides details of the possible measures that can be taken. This is their first step towards protecting the coast and its valuable destinations (Safeguarding Our Cultural Past from Future Climate Change).

These cultural assets are one important factor in the tourism ecosystem of our coastal communities that face myriad challenges. To support these tourism-dependent coastal communities, the Lighthouse Fund supports undergraduate student researchers to create case studies about timely tourism issues. The first two Sustainable Tourism Case Studies were finished last year and covered topics: tourism workforce housing and oyster reefs as a strategy to reduce coastal degradation (Sustainable Tourism Case Studies). There is also a survey for tourism stakeholders to inform upcoming undergraduate researchers about other issues they should look into to support our coastal tourism communities.