12 August 2008

Fieldtrip: Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

My family has been going to The Outer Banks since 1986. It never ceases to amaze me how many things I find to do there. Every time we go, I find something new. Not that the activities are new- they've been there all along- but I just didn't know about it before now.

Lighthouses and lifesaving stations dot the coastline. Pirates harbored their ships and laid traps for unsuspecting fleets laden with cargo. The Wright Brothers made their historical first flight on the beach sands, harnessing the ocean breezes for lift. English colonists, even before the days of Jamestown and Plymouth, settled under the trees on Roanoke Island. There are ferry rides, historic houses, and nature walks. Deep sea fishing, small airplane tours, windsurfing, kite surfing, surfing surfing, hang gliding, parasailing, surf fishing. Sandcastles, kite flying, boogie boarding, pick up volleyball games. And then, of course, there's always sitting on the beach and soaking in the sun's rays with a good book on your lap. Or just taking a nap.
I really do love this place.

This year, I learned that the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge offers guided canoe tours. For all these years, I have never been to the refuge, never knew I could be guided around on the water by someone who knows what he's talking about. So obviously, this homeschooling crew had to check it out and bring along as many family members as possible. (All of whom were graciously given the educational discount just for being associated with us. Thanks, Pea Island!*)
The Canoe Crew
(minus photographer mommy)

Heading out to the wetlands for a two-hour nature paddle.
We barely scratched the surface of this 30,000+ acre wildlife preserve.

Passing these old pylons for a Hatteras Island bridge, our guide, Will, told us the wooden bridges were in use between 1920 and the late 1940's when these islands were still a disjointed smattering of barrier sandbars. In the years that followed, the sandbars built up enough to construct Hwy 12, so the bridges are no longer used. Except by pelicans and cormorants, that is.

Scaring up a pelican

The kids armed themselves with fishing nets to see what sorts of nature could be nabbed before tipping the canoe.
We spotted a skate and some finger mullets, but never managed to capture one for closer study.

Will says we can tell this island is older than the others because of the cedar trees growing on it. Oh right, makes sense. It takes a fair amount of time for ground to become fertile enough to support trees. He estimated it's been here for 150 years or so.

Halfway through the tour we stopped to do some wading and watching.
There are areas of the Oregon Inlet that are only knee-deep, even a half-mile out. A wading wonderland!

Will told us the early inhabitants of the Outer Banks prided themselves on their ability to harvest everything from the islands that they needed to survive, even seasonings for food. On the left is Sea Asparagus- used as salt. On the right is Sea Ox Eye Daisy- used as pepper.
We tried them ourselves, and amazingly, they're dead on!

Anna and her Uncle Jason- wading buddies.

* Many national parks in the US offer discounted rates for "educational institutions." Read that, homeschools. Typically, all I've had to present as proof that my school exists and is legit, is our school letterhead.
Several years ago we made up a name for our homeschool, typed it in a fancy font in Microsoft Word, added a clipart logo for some flair, put it on the top of a document and saved it for anytime we're heading to a national park and need letterhead.
Pea Island asked me for even less.
Significant discounts await.

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