Aggregating Authenticity

Biking Through Beaufort
by Tawnee Milko -- September 2nd, 2011

As Nicholas School students descend upon Duke’s marine counterpart to the east for the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation Sprint Triathlon, join me on a whirlwind tour of the Duke Marine Lab and the lovely city of Beaufort.

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A sunny morning dawned over the Repass Ocean Conservation Center at the Duke University Marine Lab, a LEED Gold - certified building where Marine Lab students have lectures and labs.

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The Repass Center is home to one of my favorite Marine Lab study spots: The Adirondack chairs on its spacious back porch. These seats are a prime location to watch across the channel for members of the Carrot Island wild horse population, who enjoy making occasional surprise appearances.

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The Duke Marine Lab and NOAA NMFS Laboratory occupy Pivers Island, about a mile's commute from the historic town of Beaufort. From the Marine Lab, you can see (and often hear!) the downtown area east across Beaufort Inlet.

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On a beautiful morning like this one, Marine Lab residents have a few options - take a run on Radio Island, go for an early morning swim off the docks, or just wander into the cafeteria to see if Sly the Chef has whipped up his famous banana nut muffins and freshly sliced mango. We grabbed Duke bikes and headed into town!

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We tried to stay quiet while crossing the main quad - most students in the dorms (on the right) were probably still asleep! On the left are classroom facilities and labs, and the "boathouse" at the head of the quad is a popular study spot and gathering place. Adventurers without proper footwear for biking, wading or hiking can choose from the many abandoned pairs of tennis shoes in the "Shoe Garden," behind the boathouse.

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As we biked across the drawbridge to the mainland, we could see the Marine Lab and, beyond a few more barrier islands, the open Atlantic. The biota-rich estuarine conditions attract a diverse array of aquatic life, and we shifted our attention between steering clear of oncoming vehicles and searching for dolphins - I've watched several frolic along this channel!

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After zipping down narrow side streets past historic homes, we reached downtown Beaufort. The town was founded in 1709 and established as a seaport in 1722 - the third oldest town in North Carolina! Now a flavorful mix of modern vacation yachts and beautiful old homes, it remains a city proud of its culture and maritime heritage.

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Wandering down Beaufort's boardwalk, we encountered a unique array of shops, restaurants teeming with a wide variety of seafood, and costumed pirates taking tourists' booty in the form of city tours. One made his tour group "arrrrghh" at us as we passed. Shiver me timbers!

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Over the course of many bike rides through Beaufort, we consistently searched for the oldest house in the town (each was conveniently labeled with its construction date for endeavors such as this). 1850, 1829, 1777... Ultimately, the earliest-built home we could find was this one, dating back to 1732!

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A contemporary of the Rustell House, the Old Burying Ground behind Ann Street United Methodist Church is one of the most beautiful little cemeteries I've visited and is only open during the daylight hours. But don't miss walking past the fences on a (preferably moonless) night. (Take a friend.) It's quite an experience!

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During the day, warm sunlight, venerable, moss-covered live oaks, and a quiet breeze foster a distinct sense of peace in this beautifully maintained historic landmark. The majority of graves, we noticed, pointed east, so as "to be facing the sun... for judgement morn," according to the Beaufort Historical Association.

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Each worn tombstone, it seemed, told a story, from the "little girl in a rum keg" (a grave by which modern-day tourists leave offerings of shells and toys) to those bearing the same surnames engraved on historic homes we had biked past only an hour before.

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As if antique homes and historic cemeteries weren't enough, we biked back to the seaside in time for an invasion by sea - of pirates! Beaufort has an extensive piracy history dating back to the 1600s, where enterprising pirates would lure unsuspecting seafarers to shore and plunder their ships. The pirate Blackbeard once roamed Beaufort's streets, and his ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, was actually sunk in Beaufort Inlet.

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Perhaps not quite of the Blackbeard stock, these pirates, rather than commandeering nearby yachts, liked to serenade curious passerbys with accordions, fiddles, and rousing pirate ballads.

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Perhaps, like many a graduate student at the Nicholas School, they were bound for a free lunch?

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But it's much more likely these pirates have (also like many a grad student) set their course toward Beaufort's Backstreet Pub, a friend to pirates, less nefarious seafarers, Guinness, locals and tourists alike.

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With a storm (and pirates) approaching, we decided to abandon the docks and return to the Marine Lab.

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We managed to beat the storm back to the Marine Lab. Anchored here are two research vessels - the R/V Cape Hatteras, owned by the NSF and operated by the Duke/UNC Oceanographic Consortium, and the R/V Susan Hudson, often used for Marine Lab course excursions.

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Batten down the hatches! The storm arrived. The eye of August 2011's Hurricane Irene passed directly over Beaufort... luckily for the town, the Marine Lab, and all of us, damage was minimal!

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We took refuge in the Marine Lab dining hall for dinner, where students, staff, and visiting researchers routinely gather to enjoy creative dining options.

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A scrumptious selection from the Marine Lab's annual and much-anticipated International Dinner.

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As they say in the South...

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At the Marine Lab, cloudy afternoon skies often give way to clear nights (or vice versa), and the Marine Lab organized an evening on the catamaran 'Lookout'. Let's finish our tour of Beaufort - by sea!

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The Beaufort Inlet / Core Sound area is home to a fantastic array of biota, from marine and freshwater species of marshgrass, phytoplankton, and aquatic wildlife to birds and more recognizable mammals. The Rachel Carson National Estuarine Research Reserve in particular, pictured here, is a birdwatcher's paradise!

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On Shackleford Banks, we passed wild horses, greatly beloved and passionately protected by many locals. The Shackleford ponies are descended from an old type of Spanish horses, believed to have been abandoned when discouraged Hispanic colonists caught the first ship they could back to the Old World hundreds of years ago.

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Night descended on the Outer Banks' southern sounds.

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We drifted back to the Marine Lab, pictured here by night.

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We arrived to find the R/V Cape Hatteras at berth for the evening. Time for a night swim here off the docks. Thanks for joining me as I explored Beaufort and the Duke University Marine Lab!

1 Comment

  1. Sue Smith
    Sep 6, 2011

    Beautiful, Tawnee!

    As usual, you captured the essence of the place. Some great shots here! Thanks for sharing them with us all.

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