Signs may have been missing since Florence

These highway historical markers on Harkers Island commemorate Fort Hancock and Cape Lookout National Seashore. State officials discovered they are missing and may have been blown over during Hurricane Florence. (N.C. Highway Historical Marker Program photo)

HARKERS ISLAND — Authorities are on the hunt for two county highway historical markers that may have been missing since Hurricane Florence last September.

The two markers were located near Shell Point on Harkers Island and commemorate Cape Lookout National Seashore and Fort Hancock. They are part of the N.C. Highway Historical Marker Program, which has installed more than 1,600 of the silver-and-black signs along roadways highlighting historically significant places and events throughout the state, including one in honor of Capt. Michael J. Smith that was unveiled Friday in Beaufort.

N.C. Highway Historical Marker Program Administrator Ansley Herring Wegner said the department isn’t sure exactly how long the markers have been missing, but she suspects they were blown off their posts during Hurricane Florence. A worker with the N.C. Department of Transportation, which helps install and maintain the markers, discovered they were missing last week when he checked on several of the markers throughout the area.

“We’d love for these to show up somewhere,” Ms. Wegner said Thursday.

The Carteret County Sheriff’s Office has joined in the search for the missing markers. According to an incident report filed this week, the metal poles the signs sit atop are still in the ground with cut marks visible on top of the pole. Several U.S. Park Service employees who work nearby think the signs likely blew away during Florence, but the sheriff’s office is still working to conclude definitively whether they were stolen or damaged in the storm.

Three other markers throughout the state are also missing, including one in James City, which is missing the sign and the pole for no apparent reason. Another missing marker in Asheville was possibly taken out in a wreck and one elsewhere in Buncombe County may have also been a victim of Hurricane Florence.

Ms. Wegner said it is not uncommon for markers to go missing, whether by natural causes or vandalism. Sometimes, they get blown over and people pick them up without realizing their significance, and the markers have turned up everywhere from storage sheds to pawn shops to bars.

“The trouble with them is they go missing and we have no idea where they could be, they’re just floating somewhere out there,” she said. “…You never really know where one will show up.”

Brand new markers cost $1,790, and it costs $880 to repair a broken one. The department has an annual budget of $60,000 to buy new markers or replace and maintain existing ones, so having many missing at once is concerning, Ms. Wegner said.

Even if the signs are broken beyond repair, Ms. Wegner prefers to know the whereabouts of all the markers throughout the state and she encourages anyone with information on the missing markers to contact the sheriff’s office or the N.C. Highway Historical Marker Program.

Although the circumstances are unfortunate, Ms. Wegner it is a good opportunity to educate the public on the highway marker program. Since there are so many throughout the state, it is often up to members of the public to alert her of missing or damaged markers.

“It’s good to have eyes on the ground keeping track of them, because we can’t do it by ourselves,” she said.

To report damage, you can fill out an online form at ncdcr.gov/node/5950 or send an email to ansley.wegner@ncdcr.gov.

According to The Associated Press, the N.C. Highway Historic Marker Program began in 1936, when the first marker was placed in Granville County in honor of John Penn, who signed the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Members of the public can propose a new marker, which are considered twice a year by a committee of 10 history professors.

Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of the missing historical markers is encouraged to contact the CCSO or Ms. Wegner.

The AP contributed to this report.

Contact Elise Clouser at elise@thenewstimes.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.

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