Field trips, finals, and lots of fish!

We’ve been been busy as ever out here on the Outer Banks as the semester winds down! Measurements have been taken, interviews conducted, and we are ready to tackle finals and finally see our Capstone project grow into a product we’re proud of.

Now that going to the beach is no longer our sole extra-curricular activity, we’re hunkering down with work. After months of collecting data, we now have a clear idea of how we’re going to write the paper, prepare the presentation, and put together the podcast that will debut in mid December. We’ve broken up into smaller groups based on deliverable and are working through our first stages of those final products.

In the podcast group, we’ve been working on shifting mindsets from the very methodical, detailed tasks of collecting data from the past few months to the creative work of making a podcast from scratch. We have a lot of goals, from trying to communicate the value of coastal waters to residents of Nags Head, share issues related to septic systems, and more — all in a few twenty-minute podcasts. It’s certainly no easy task. But I keep coming back to a saying from one of my high school history teachers — that you don’t truly understand something unless you can explain it to a fifth grader. Now, we’re expecting our podcast audience to be a bit older, but it’s still a valuable exercise in applying a semester’s worth of knowledge in a creative medium that is accessible, entertaining, and educational. It’s helped to show us just how much we’ve learned these past few months, too.

As Capstone amps up, our classes are winding down. It’s hard to believe our classes are already almost over after what feels like just a few weeks. But we’ve still found a way to apply what we’ve been learning in class to some of the conservation and coastal management centers throughout the Outer Banks.

Last week, we spent a windy Friday visiting the Buxton Woods Reserve and Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station. At Buxton Woods, we helped with trail maintenance  and learned about some of the state’s National Estuarine Research and Coastal Reserve systems. The land of the Reserve was meant to be converted into a golf course, but a group of community members worked together to preserve the land. This wasn’t the first field trip we took where the natural spaces wouldn’t exist without the activism of community members — it’s just one of the things I find special about the Outer Banks. We also visited the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station for a glimpse into the life of the surfmen on the frontlines of the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

Some of the awesome wild mushrooms we saw on our hike in Buxton Woods!

After another busy week of classes, internships, and Capstone, we took another field trip to O’Neals Seafood and the fish house in our very own Wanchese Harbor. Sara, a fisheries specialist with North Carolina Sea Grant, gave us an awesome run-down of fishery management on North Carolina’s coast, and we even got to see the behind-the-scenes workings of how the fish we had eaten for lunch got from the ocean and sound to our plates.

The heads of the shrimp brought into the Wanchese Harbor.
Me posing with a crab straight from the basket and still alive!

I’m so grateful that our field trips on the Outer Banks have opened up our experiences to a space far greater than our classrooms. Even when we’re busy, getting out into the community is a helpful way to step back and take a look at the greater picture of what we’re learning here.

Planning the Coast – Emily’s Internship with Kill Devil Hills

Hello, blog! My name is Emily Galvin, and my internship this semester was with the Planning Department of the Town of Kill Devil Hills. The office oversees a number of the workings of Kill Devil Hills, from participating in public forums to issuing building permits and designing public parks. 

Local governments like Kill Devil Hills have the unique position of meeting the concerns of local residents and also ensuring the coordination with federal and state policies. On my very first day on the job, my mentor, Meredith, and I attended a FEMA meeting with all of the other towns on the Outer Banks to begin assessing the damage of Hurricane Dorian. I was immediately impressed with the way these towns react to storms like this one and are prepared to meet with federal agencies in the aftermath. 

In my job, I spent time editing the Town’s CAMA Land Use Plan based on comments from the State, which is a major project that coastal municipalities must undertake to best prepare their town and residents for the realities of living on the coast. I learned a lot about how governments plan for resiliency – and, in many cases, how these local governments learn to design their own plans in ways not prescribed at the State level. 

Throughout my internship, I was impressed by how engaged citizens were in the decision-making process of local government and town planning. Since coming to the Outer Banks, I’ve been lucky to have been exposed to the way that members of a small community look out for each other and have a stake in the places that matter to them.

I was able to review videos from a town council meeting, and in it I could see the difficulty of local government — the balance of meeting the needs of the town residents and complying with existing ordinances. A few times, I met with residents and business owners throughout Kill Devil Hills about pieces of their land that did not comply with Town Code, and most of them were positively committed to making the changes to comply. This was a common mission in local governments, I learned, working with local individuals during one afternoon and federal agencies in another.

I learned a great deal about the careful balance of being a local government, and I’m sure this will shape the way I see the places I live in the future. A big thank you to the Town of Kill Devil Hills for having me.