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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

No Roads Lead to Corova

Air Date: Week of October 29, 1993

Also from the outer banks, Adam Hochberg brings us the story of Corova Beach, North Carolina — a community without a road to the outside world. While many residents of the town feel they have as much right to a road as any other taxpayer, a nature preserve lies between Corova Beach and the nearest highway.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Just a few miles from Corolla, North Carolina, is the island community of Carova Beach. But getting there isn't easy. Carova Beach is one of the very few towns in the United States that doesn't have a road. Some residents would like one, to make commuting easier. The problem is, the road would have to cut through a wildlife refuge. Adam Hochberg of member station WUNC in Chapel Hill has our report.

HOCHBERG: This is how Marlene Slate begins her afternoon commute from her real estate office in the town of Corolla to her home about thirteen miles away in Carova Beach.

(Sound of car engine starting up)

HOCHBERG: For the first mile or so, she travels down a nice two-lane highway that leads to the beach. Then, with her Nissan Pathfinder and four-wheel drive, she revs her engine and descends onto the sand.

HOCHBERG: So this is where the road ends?
SLATE: This is where the road ends, yeah. And life begins.

HOCHBERG: For the next half-hour or so, her commute is a rocky, bumpy drive down the beach. Often in the summer, she has to maneuver her Pathfinder around sunbathers, fishermen, horseback riders, even occasional hang gliders.

SLATE: I gotta watch up there, I gotta watch there, there - everywhere.

HOCHBERG: Some days it can be a nerve-wracking drive. Children and dogs dart in front of her car, a stray beach ball flies by now and then, old tree stumps that stick out of the sand make an obstacle course that she has to drive around. And beachcombers sometimes unknowingly wander out to the part of the beach that's supposed to be reserved for vehicles.

SLATE: That's our home, and a lot of them will park right out there and set up their chairs, and, you know, blah-blah-blah, and then some are parked up here and some are playing, you know, volleyball set up, some are playing horseshoes, sometimes you can't even get through.

HOCHBERG: When the Carova Beach community was first developed in the 1960's and '70's, homebuyers didn't think they'd have to drive on the beach to get to work or get to the store. Originally, developers planned for a road to be built that would connect Carova Beach with the rest of the North Carolina Outer Banks. But about ten years ago the area south of Carova Beach was purchased by the Nature Conservancy, a private group that buys environmentally-sensitive land and preserves it. Most of the land was turned over to the Federal Government for a wildlife refuge. But the Nature Conservancy kept a few acres for itself. Neither the Conservancy nor the Federal Government will allow a road to be built. Still, about a hundred residents settled in the Carova Beach area and the population increases to more than 300 in the summer. Some of those people, such as Micki Brock, feel betrayed that there's no road.

BROCK: How come that we're the only place in the United States that can't have a road? We're paying over a third of the taxes to Currituck County. I don't see what would be detrimental about having a decent way in and out. I do not see any reason for that.

(Sound of birds)

HOCHBERG: But the people who manage the wildlife refuge say a road would indeed be detrimental to the birds, animals and plants that live on either side of Carova Beach. Barb Blounder of the Nature Conservancy said this is one of the last undeveloped stretches of ocean front on the East Coast.

BLOUNDER: This is really a very special place. I mean, it's not just a piece of beach front that could be found anywhere, it's part of our heritage.

HOCHBERG: The nature preserve is an important nesting ground for animals like sea turtles and birds like swans and falcons and bald eagles. It's located right on the Atlantic Flyway, a travel path for migratory birds. During the spring and fall, hundreds of thousands of birds stop here to rest. It's one of the few places along the coast where they can go to get away from people, and from hunters. But Blounder says things would change if a road were built. Not only would animals be in danger of being hit by cars, but some species may decide to abandon the area entirely because of the noise and commotion that a road would bring.

BLOUNDER: It has all types of different detrimental effects, including interfering with nesting, including enabling more off-road vehicle activity to enter into the preserve and damage the dune systems, and in fact the whole ecosystem here would be impacted.

HOCHBERG: Environmentalists concede that there is some ecological damage now from people driving on the beach. Nests get run over by vehicles, and sea gulls often are scared away. But they say building a road would make things worse, if for no other reason than because there would be so much more traffic. And not all Carova Beach residents want the road. Charlie Pool says he thinks things are fine the way they are, even though he has to take his children to school every morning by boat across the Currituck Sound.

POOL: If they put roads in here I'd probably move away from here, because that's not what I'm here for. I'm here because there's not a road.

HOCHBERG: For several years, the Currituck County Commission has been on record in favor of constructing a road to connect Carova Beach to the rest of the county. They say it's essential if the government is expected to continue providing services like garbage collection, housing inspections, and emergency response. Still, any effort to build a road would probably face a strong challenge from the Nature Conservancy and from environmentalists. So for the foreseeable future, Carova Beach residents can expect to keep traveling through the sand to get to their homes. For Living on Earth, I'm Adam Hochberg in Carova Beach, North Carolina.

 

 

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