Reporter's note: This article was updated with a full story at 10:40 a.m. Friday, Dec. 4, 2020.
HARKERS ISLAND — Several structures on the Outer Banks at Cape Lookout National Seashore have been deemed unsafe and must be taken down to the regret of the superintendent and a local historian.
The National Park Service at Cape Lookout issued an announcement Thursday that six structures are marked for demolition. These structures are located in two historic Cape Lookout villages: Cape Village and Portsmouth Village. This demolition is due to damaged caused by storms and sea level rise.
“For centuries, the natural-barrier islands that make up Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Core Banks, South Core Banks, and Shackleford Banks) has acted as a ‘shield’ for the mainland against ocean surges, and high-water events that are associated to Hurricanes, Nor’easters, and other weather-related phenomena,” the NPS said in its announcement. “Of course, the park is also rich with human history and is home to many historic structures that are remnants of the lives and times of Eastern Carolina ancestry.
“Regrettably, storms and rising sea-level have taken a toll on some of the historic structures in the park. During the last three years, unrecoverable damage has occurred to the Casablanca House (also known as the Baker-Holderness House, Cape Village), the Seltzer-Dawsey House (Cape Village), the Jetty Worker 1 House (Cape Village), the TT Potter House (Portsmouth Village), the Frank Gaskill House (Portsmouth Village), and the Battle Brothers Hunting and Fishing Lodge (near Portsmouth Village).”
NPS Cape Lookout Superintendent Jeff West said in an interview Thursday with the News-Times the demolition will start with the southern-most buildings and will continue north. While a specific schedule hasn’t been set, Mr. West said the contractor intends to start in December, if possible, and aims to complete the work by March.
On Harkers Island, the Cape Lookout Visitor Center sits next to the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, which the park service staff often partners with. Core Sound Executive Director Karen Amspacher said Thursday “it’s a very sad day, but it was inevitable.”
“This is happening based on years and years of (the federal government) not funding maintenance,” she said. Ms. Amspacher stressed, however, she doesn’t blame NPS staff at Cape Lookout.
“They’re just doing what was inevitable,” she said. “It’s a local, cultural tragedy, but it’s an agency issue, because it’s about funding and priorities.”
Ms. Amspacher said in recent years there have been budget cuts to various federal agencies responsible for cultural preservation. As a result, she said local NPS officials have had to prioritize which buildings to focus on maintaining and protecting.
The park service said while these structures are representative of important parts of Cape Lookout’s history, they now pose a serious threat to visitors and will have to be demolished.
Mr. West expressed his regrets.
“It hate it,” he told the News-Times. “It’s very important to me to live up to our mission as a park service. You can look out there and still envision a city out there. If we lose more historic buildings, we lose that perspective.”
Mr. West said in the official NPS announcement he’s “put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into trying to get us back on track with the preservation of these buildings.”
“Deterioration, lack of attention and our environment have all contributed to the loss,” he said. “I truly regret it and will do everything I can to get the remaining structures repaired. To honor the women and men who made a living out of these buildings, we will put up waysides at each location to commemorate their contribution to the culture and history of the banks.”
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.