MANNS HARBOR — All Troy Outland has ever wanted to do is fish. Yet this soft-spoken man who has spent a lifetime following his dream, managed to bring politicians, real-estate salespeople, businesses, and commercial and recreational fishermen together to create the Manns Harbor Marina, a place that commercial and recreational fishermen can call home.
Because of the result of his efforts the N.C. Coastal Federation gave him a 2014 Pelican Award, which are given annually to people who take exemplary steps to preserve and protect the coastal environment.
Outland has lived his life by the water, growing up just north of the Outer Banks in Harbinger where he began fishing at an early age.
“I grew up in Currituck County, right next to my grandfather’s place,” Outland said. “My grandfather had a place on the water and several of my uncles and cousins were fishermen. And when, I guess, I was 10 years old, I’d just be down to the boats waiting for them to come in and trying to help clean up and pack fish.”
Over the years, he has done just about everything there is to do with fishing. He’s been a gill netter, worked with long haul nets, fished from the beach, still goes crabbing and along the way he has found his calling. “I lived in Hatteras for a year and worked on a pound net crew. I’ve done all kinds of fishing, but pound netting is the thing I like the most,” he said.
His preference is to wake up early, get to his nets by Alligator River and see what the day’s haul will be. “When you go into a pound net you don’t know what you’re going to catch that day,” he said.
Outland is uneasy with the attention that comes from being an award winner. “I’m not real comfortable being in the public,” he said. And he was surprised when his work was recognized.
Although he might seem an unlikely leader, there is another side to him—a part of his personality that understands that someone has to come forward and take a stand.
“Most of the fishermen in the community they don’t want to get really involved with anything,” Outland said. “They just want to get up and go fishing. But if someone didn’t step in and help to some degree, we would get something that we wouldn’t like.”
The Manns Harbor Marina had fallen into disrepair by 2004 and had been bought by developers who were planning on building condominiums on the site. Before construction could begin, though, the real-estate market collapsed and the project never moved forward. To the residents of Manns Harbor, it was an opportunity to keep the feel of the village they loved.
From the left: Ladd Bayliss, an advocate for the N.C. Coastal Federation; Troy Outland, the Pelican Award winner; and Lauren Hermley, vice president of the N.C. Coastal Federation’s board of directors. Photo: Staff
“The community did not like the idea, and we wanted a working waterfront,” Cyndy Holda, president of the Manns Harbor Civic Association, said. “Manns Harbor has always been a . . . fishing village.”
A series of community meetings followed, and as the ideas began to take shape, Outland with his patience and even-keeled personality seemed the ideal person to take the lead.
“It was a project that needed to be done, and they were just asking for help [from] different people in the community,” he said. “They were trying to get a committee formed to represent Manns Harbor. I gave some input on some things I was interested in. As time went by I was asked to be the chairman to keep things going.”
Or, as Holda more succinctly said, “He was the most suitable for the chair.”
By 2008 there was agreement that what the village and fishermen wanted was a working marina, but that was going to take money. “We were able to get help from [State Senator] Marc Basnight and others to acquire the land and the thing just took off,” Outland said.
“It’s a lot of money out there,” he went on to say. “To purchase the land was over $4 million, then the first phase of construction was like $850,000.”
The second phase was just as expensive. There is a third phase planned, but it is on hold for the time being.
The facility is different in a number of ways. Designed for both recreational and commercial fishermen, the marina does not charge a fee for any boat using the docks. Also, how the docks would be maintained.
“Who would be responsible for the upkeep since we don’t charge anyone to stay there?” Outland asked. “There are no dock fees. As long as you’re working your boat you can stay there. The county and the state had to come to some agreement, and that was an issue that needed to be addressed.”
There were other issues that came up along the way, and Outland is comfortable handing out credit.
“A great deal of thanks to [Manns Harbor resident] Robin Mann and Cindy Holda,” he said. “They went to Raleigh and talked to different people to come up with the money to purchase the land.”
Docks at Manns Harbor Marina have been built for fishermen to launch and tie off their boats at no cost to them. Photo: Staff
There were others, he noted, who also kept the commission on track. Ladd Bayliss, the N.C. Coastal Federation advocate in Manteo, and Erin Fleckenstein, the manager of the federation’s office there, attended many of the meetings, he said.“Without them I would not know which way to turn, so it worked out real well,” he said.
The people he has worked with feel as strongly about the leadership Outland has shown throughout the project. “I think it’s incredibly safe to say that without Troy, there’s no way that the project would have been able to move forward in the way that it has,” Bayliss said.
The work of the Manns Harbor Commission is slowing down. The dock for the commercial fishing boats has recently been completed. He’s sleeping in now, Outland mentions, getting up at 5 a.m. to spend the day on the water.
The family tradition of working the water is being passed along; his son, Troy, Jr., is also a commercial fisherman out of Manns Harbor, although he ties up at the old emergency ferry dock off Old Ferry Dock Road.
Troy Jr., sits on the commission with his father. There is pride in that and pride in knowing that a family tradition will be passed along.
“It’s a way of life,” Outland said. “It’s something that you grow up into. You get the bug and that’s it.”