by Judith Bailey
For a nice December hike through a young forest I like to go near Manteo NC on the North End of Roanoke Island. Turn right at the sign for Fort Raleigh and turn left toward Elizabethan Gardens. Park at the Gardens. Immediately opposite the entrance to the gardens is a hiking trail with a handicap accessible sign.
This trail goes to the Sound and is a level walk down a wide soft earth path strewn with pine needles. The trail crosses two roads that lead to housing developments. To the Sound and back is about two miles. There are abundant bay trees along this trail and I saw a beautiful magnolia too. A lot of the usual tree types, Loblolly Pines, Live Oaks, Holly, and Yaupon are also represented.
In the summer it can be a very fast hike (as in run) because the mosquitoes can be intense in the shaded areas of the Outer Banks. But late fall and winter are ideal times to head for the woods and enjoy what is left of the great Maritime forests that once blanketed the Outer Banks. If you go the whole way you will arrive near the Mann's Harbor bridge where you will see netting for the Purple Martins who nest there and probably a few fishermen as it is a great location for catching Striped Bass, aka Rockfish.
The north end of Roanoke Island is a place rich in history. It was here that an Algonquin tribe of Native Americans had a small village. When the first English colonists came they graciously allowed the settlers to have the island and moved their village to Mann's Harbor but continued to help the struggling colony with provisions -- until things turned ugly, thanks to the colony's leader, Ralph Lane. That was quite a long time ago, over 400 years, in fact, but memories live on in The Lost Colony play that runs all summer and interpreters at Fort Raleigh who will be glad to fill you in on all the details.
You might wonder what there is to do on the Outer Banks in December. Actually, quite a lot. In Manteo NC, the calendar is quite full. Dec. 4th there is a tree lighting ceremony and the Dare County Arts Council, located in Manteo NC, has a reception for a Holiday Small Works Show. Yours truly will have a few items there so be sure to stop by the gallery. Dec. 5th is the Christmas parade. December 12th is "Christmas Sights and Sounds," at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site with horse & carriage rides, Santa Claus, holiday music, hot chocolate, etc. On Dec. 19th at Roanoke Island Festival Park (I always call it Rif-pa because the name is so long) there will be an Elizabethan Christmas celebration of the 3rd day of Christmas with 16th century holiday traditions ... Please check the Calendar of Events page for exact details and times.
If, after all this hiking and revelry, you start to feel hungry, Manteo NC has a wonderful downtown area with shops and miles of docks. They also have some great restaurants. Two of my favorites are the Full Moon Cafe and Ortega'z. If you go to Ortega'z be sure to check out the restored mural of the Albatross Fleet (that is still docked in Hatteras) on the back wall. It is truly vintage art at its finest!