MANNS HARBOR — Almost 11 years after developers bought the old Manns Harbor Marina in the hopes of building a condominium complex, the docks have been returned to their original purpose and are an example of what can happen when local people stick together.
New . . . and improved … and renamed the Manns Harbor Access Area, the old marina is open to Outer Banks fishermen, the only state ramp designed for those who fish for fun and for those who do it fish for a living and the only one that will be managed by local folks.
With temperatures struggling to reach the freezing mark and a brisk wind blowing from the north, ribbon-cutting ceremony on Feb. 13 was an understandably brief affair. The real celebration over what had been accomplished moved to the Manns Harbor Civic Center just up the road—a celebration that included Hatteras Clam Chowder, fried chicken and a few speeches.
The idea for a new dock grew out of the desires of Mann’s Harbor residents to keep their tradition of fishing alive, and it became a joint project involving the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Dare County officials, local residents and commercial and recreational fishermen with input from the N.C. Coastal Federation.
“The marina has always been such a steady thing in Manns Harbor,” Ladd Bayliss, a federation coastal advocate, said. “It has always been a part of the community.”
Although the most important industry in Manns Harbor is now boatbuilding, the village was originally a fishing and farming community. Ten or 12 years ago that heritage was in danger of being lost. The Manns Harbor Marina had become a victim of a worsening economy. Dilapidated and in desperate need of maintenance and repair, the property was sold to investors looking to build a private marina and condominium.
The investors also fell victim to the economy. By 2005, an empty marina with rotting docks greeted drivers crossing the Old Manns Harbor Bridge. To the residents of the village, though, the empty harbor was an opportunity. In an earlier interview, Cyndy Holda, president of the Manns Harbor Civic Association, explained, “The community did not like the idea (of a condominium) and we wanted a working waterfront. Manns Harbor has always been a . . . fishing village.”
Residents formed a working committee, the Manns Harbor Marine Commission, which included commercial and recreational fisherman, Holda and Bayliss. They all got down to work. Marc Basnight, then a powerful state senator from Dare County, got the commission some money, but that wasn’t the only obstacle.
Gordon Myers, executive director of the wildlife commission, explained that the design of the dock is something new for the commission and N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.
“I remember a number of years ago at a public hearing in Edenton a commercial fisherman came forward,” Myers recalled. “He was complaining that we don’t allow commercial fishing in our boat ramps. Yes we do. . . no you don’t . . . Back and forth. I talked to him after the hearing and I learned real quickly that it was really a matter of how we designed the facilities. It was not designed for those uses.”
He went on to recount the background of how the plans for the Manns Harbor Access Area became a part of the commission plan. The Waterfront Access Study Commission was created to look at the needs of commercial and recreational fishermen in the state. “We recognized the importance of a working waterfront,” Myers said.
With community support already in place and money available, Manns Harbor seemed the ideal location to begin. “Years later here we have this project, that is truly a multi-use multi-purpose type facility, the first one of its kind,” Myers said. “It’s really great to see private citizens, local businesses, non-governmental organizations and local and state government all working together to common purpose.”
The scope of Myers’ comment about cooperation across private and public lines is part of the story of how the proposal moved forward.
The Manns Harbor Commission started working on the idea in 2008. Troy Outland, a commercial fisherman and the commission’s chair, said Bayliss should be credited with making it all happen.
“I wanted to thank Ladd Bayliss again,” he said at the Community Center gathering. “Even though I was chosen as the chairman,” “Trying to make a living as a commercial fisherman is hard enough as it is and I don’t really have fun to come in and make the phone calls. Miss Ladd has been a blessing making all the phone calls, scheduling the meetings. Basically making me look good.”
The project differs from other state access areas in how the rules governing its use will be managed. “It’s not rocket science,” Bayliss said. “The people who are going to use the facility are in the best position to manage it.”
The first phase of the project was completed in 2012 with three recreational boat docks, floating docks and a bulkhead. The commercial docks were finished last year. There are plans in place for a kayak or canoe launch site, but those plans are on hold pending funding.
Visually far different than the image of a deteriorating Marina with rotting wooden docks, the new access area has ample parking for commercial vehicles and day-use recreational fisherman.
To Outland it is a model of what can be. “For this to be the first facility like this, it’s just been a real blessing,” he said. “I hope that it will be a future project like this throughout North Carolina.”
More than a ribbon cutting for the new Manns Harbor Access Area, the day was also a celebration of community and what cooperation can bring. “It was neat to see how excited everyone was,” Bayless said. “It was such a shared goal with so many.”