Wild Horse Eco-Tourism GIANT Summer Success Story
COROLLA, N.C. – Beach driving fees in Hatteras and a new global advertising campaign pitching Corolla’s wild horses could send thousands more this summer to the Currituck Outer Banks, where beaches are already teeming on summer weekends.
The double whammy could be both fortune and trouble for Currituck County.
“This year could be the breaking point,” said Commissioner Vance Aydlett, who owns property in Carova Beach. “We’ll see.”
Crowded beaches are good for business. Corolla shops and beach-home rentals depend on a busy summer season. Currituck County draws the bulk of its revenue from taxes on Outer Banks property and tourism.
At the same time, though, county officials and residents in the four-wheel-drive area lament that the beaches are reaching a saturation point on some weekends, making it hazardous for people and horses alike. A beach-driving committee made several recommendations earlier this year to deal with the overflow situation, including a permit system that would limit the number of vehicles allowed on the beach.
“If this beach becomes like every other beach, then we’ve lost something special,” said Kimberlee Hoey, a resident of the four-wheel-drive area and member of the beach-driving committee. “We have to find a balance.”
Hoey, Aydlett and others support a permit system that caps the number of vehicles.
“We’ve got to focus on the quality rather than the quantity,” Aydlett said.
The talk of limiting access comes at the same time that North Carolina’s Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development is featuring for the first time the Corolla wild horses in an Internet and print advertising campaign.
The state’s $3 million campaign includes running photos and videos of the wild horses in digital ads and images in national magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens, Southern Living and O, The Oprah Magazine, said Wit Tuttell, marketing director for the Division of Tourism.
The wild horses are also featured on the state’s website, VisitNC.com, which gets 4 million hits per year.
“We wanted to find things that are unique to North Carolina and made impacts on people,” Tuttell said.
If successful, the campaign could attract thousands more people to the same four-wheel-drive area of the Currituck Outer Banks that locals are trying to tame.
Diane Nordstrom, director of Currituck County’s Department of Travel and Tourism, acknowledged the potential for large crowds but said being included in this kind of campaign “is the most exciting news I’ve had in this business.”
She said her department would be encouraging interested travelers to take advantage of the fall and spring seasons in Currituck to avoid the crowded summer and its higher rental rates. Her office also educates people about beach rules, such as the need to stay 50 feet from the wild horses, and it suggests visitors use the horse tour companies rather than drive their own vehicles.
Corolla Wild Horse Fund Director Karen McCalpin, anticipating bigger crowds because of the ad campaign and Hatteras fees, said she plans to hire more staff to educate crowds sharing the beach with wild horses.
“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword,” she said. “We certainly want everybody to see the wild horses because they are amazing.”
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore began requiring permits this year for driving on the beach – $50 for a week and $120 for the year.
Currituck visitor centers and the tourism website are getting more inquiries, most asking about wild horses, Nordstrom said
“The most popular attraction after the beaches is the horses,” Nordstrom said. “Every time you see them, it makes you stop in awe. They are beautiful, beautiful animals.”
Jeff Hampton, 252-338-0159, firstname.lastname@example.org
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