NAGS HEAD — Pines, live oaks, sparkleberry and sassafras are just a few of the many plants found amid the buzz of life within Nags Head Woods.
This rich and diverse tract of about 1,100 is home to numerous species of plants, birds and reptiles and was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1974. Here, visitors can gain a unique perspective of nature.
During the 19th century these woods sustained life for an entire village, and today they continue to host many new and old friends alike. Six different trails snake their way through Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve, through the deciduous forests and around ponds tucked in the dunes.
Managed by the N.C. Nature Conservancy, the preserve is open for everyone, including deer hunters during the season. Ed Mays, a local hunter and president of N.C. Handicapped Sportsmen, found himself faced with a real challenge at the preserve. Negotiating wooded trails in a wheel chair is a daunting task. Parents pushing strollers and people on canes and walkers face similar difficulties.
Driven and determined, Mays set to the task of doing something about it.
For four years, he met with Aaron McCall, the conservancy’s steward at the preserve, to talk about access for disabled bow hunters. Town officials from Kill Devil Hills were drawn in. Several grants followed. Dominion Energy, Dare County Tourism, the Outer Banks Foundation, the Kiwanis Club of the Outer Banks and North Banks Rotary all chipped in to build a trail for the disabled.
“This may have started out to help handicapped sportsmen, now it is much more,” said Mays in the fall 2011 North Carolina Afield newsletter. “In the future, there is going to be an increased need for accessible trails overall.”
Many residents who had problems walking the preserve’s trail would agree, especially those with small children. Transplanted here from Oregon, Coreen Smith, a mother and avid hiker, was more than pleased with the new trail.
“I was very impressed with the setup of the trail and that the town was able to make this happen,” she said. “It makes me feel great about living here and that creating this was considered a priority.”
Not to mention how much fun her 16-month-old child had. “My son was able to walk the entire trail, it was the perfect length and he never had to be carried,” she said.
The cement path that marks the start of the trail and makes its way through the preserve, almost glows a stark white against the backdrop of browns and greens the forest has on display. Along the trail there are benches for resting and signs that explain to visitors which animals they may see and what plants are in season. Stunning marsh views can be found as well as fishing from one of the platforms on the interdunal pond. These brackish waters are home to a variety of creatures, including bass, crappie, spring peepers and ribbon snakes. Visitors are welcome to park at the main lot and then walk down, or have the option of parking right at the trail head.
“We have had such great feedback, especially with families,” says Kate Murray, office manager of Nags Head Woods. “We have had many folks that use wheelchairs or canes seek us out because of the trails’ accessibility.”
People can enjoy the path but also the view, as there is a cutout on the platform for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to see over the railing. And this time of year there is plenty to see.
Visitors to Nags Head Woods have the option to hold events, attend night hikes or simply enjoy being outdoors with their family. Thanks to one like-minded local, more people can take advantage of what the Woods have to offer.