Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Currituck Beach Lighthouse

After spending the afternoon on a Corolla wild horse tour in the very northernmost reaches of the North Carolina Outer Banks, we set out to explore as much of Corolla as the remaining daylight would allow. First stop was the Currituck Beach Lighthouse.

The 162-foot lighthouse was completed in 1875, standing guard over Currituck Sound, the Currituck Outer Banks and the Atlantic. Unlike many of its Carolina counterparts, the brick lighthouse has never been painted; it was the last major brick lighthouse to be built on the Outer Banks.

It is possible to climb the 220 steps to the top for beautiful panoramic views of the Sound and ocean, although there is no access to the lens room; the first order Fresnel lens is the original lens and still operational, its light visible over 18 nautical miles away.

Entry is $10/person, and once inside the lighthouse you’ll find exhibits the history of coastal lighthouses, the Fresnel lens, shipwrecks and the lighthouse keepers. The lighthouse and museum shop are generally open 9am to 5pm – see website for details.

In the shadow of the lighthouse is the Historic Corolla Park. The parks most prominent attraction is Whalehead, a 1920s Art Nouveau-style mansion listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours are available, and offer architectural information as well as insight into the history of Corolla. The footbridge that connects the Whalehead island with the mainland on the north side is extremely popular for sunset-viewing over Currituck Sound, and reminds me of Venice's Ponte di Realto.

Opposite the bridge is the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, which offers exhibits and outdoor programs designed to help explore the region’s coastal wildlife, natural history and cultural heritage. We did not have the opportunity to tour the Center on this visit – we were too busy flying kites and touring the lighthouse – and when the sun started sinking lower in the sky we headed north.

There are many businesses that offer tours of the area. Corolla Wild Horse Fund is the official non-profit that protects and preserves the Corolla Wild Horses, and their headquarters and museum is located on the corner of Corolla Village Road and Schoolhouse Lane.* Just across the street is Coastal Explorations, a company that offers horse and boat tours as well as rentals: kayak, SUP and bike. The Coastal Explorations pier is a well-kept secret, stretching almost ½ mile out over the marsh and sound. From picturesque views of the lighthouse rising up over the barrier island to sightings of shorebirds in the wetlands, experiencing an Outer Banks sunset over the Currituck Sound is a definite must-see on any trip to the region.

For more on Historic Corolla Park, Whalehead, the lighthouse and the Center for Wildlife Education, please visit the Outer Banks visitor guide website.

* It is my understanding that the Corolla Wild Horses Fund is relocating to 520 Old Stoney Road, south of Corolla and closer to the Audubon Pine Island Sanctuary and Center as of February 1st.



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