While many of Topsail Island’s treasures are apparent as soon as you cross the bridge into Surf City, there are those that are tucked away from the mainland and hidden just out of sight. But for those who are willing to scratch the surface and look a little deeper, there is a wealth of educational opportunities just waiting to be found.
Evidence of some of the region’s oldest residents can be found on Permuda Island, a 1.5-mile sliver of land that sits in Stump Sound adjacent to North Topsail Beach. Archaeological evidence here dates back to about 300 BC amidst the Holocene and Pleistocene sands that make up the island. Thick deposits of shell refuse in the waters surrounding the island led the NC National Estuarine Research Reserve to conclude that prehistoric Native Americans found access to a wide variety of shellfish on the land, including oysters, clams, scallops, crabs and whelks.
First deeded in the mid-1700s, the former farmland in the central part of the island is now covered in dog fennel, goldenrod, broomsedge and asters, while the waters around the island are used as nursery grounds for a variety of species.
A great spot for bird watching, the protected estuary is home to egrets, herons, black skimmers, sandpipers, willetts and more. What may be most eye catching, however, are the clusters of stunted trees and shrubs, hence the name Stump Sound. Naturists will recognize yaupon, silverling, live oak, red cedar and others amidst what once may have been a bountiful maritime forest. To learn more about the site, visit www.nccoastalreserve.net.
Holly Shelter Game Land
This reserve, which covers nearly 70,000 acres between Holly Ridge and Rocky Point is a true mixed use space. The land is use for hunting September through January and reverts to hiking and camping space for the remainder of the year. Guests will find hiking and ATV trails, picnic areas and plenty of space to explore the varied ecosystems of the Carolina coastal plain.
Primary hunting species include deer, bear, turkey, fox, rabbit, raccoon, squirrel, quail and dove. While hunting is a popular pastime for many who visit the site, it is often the rare plants that bring visitors to the site.
According to the NC Natural Heritage Program, Pender County has some of the most biologically significant land along the entire United State coastline and ranks fourth among the state’s 100 counties for its number of rare plants, including sundews, pitcher plants and Venus flytraps.
Few will deny how cool these carnivorous plants are, but many people don’t realize just how rare they are. So rare, that they only grow naturally within about a 100-mile radius of Wilmington. And that’s it … in the world.
The nitrogen and phosphorus poor boggy savannahs along North Carolina’s coastline are the only places where the plant is truly indigenous.
The Wildlife Commission estimates that there are less than 35,000 flytraps remaining in the wild. If you spot one, be sure to enjoy it without physically interacting. Damaging or picking a Venus flytrap is against the law. To learn more, visit www.ncwildlife.org.
Learn More About It
Ecological Marine Adventures in Surf City and the Environmental Education Center in Sneads Ferry both offer summer science programs for youngsters, a great way to get them excited about science and keep them busy during the summer.
Ecological Marine Adventures is a marine education center that specializes in hands-on, in the field education adventures for children and families. EMA operates a community aquarium and marine exploration lab. The aquarium is free and open to the public year round. The lab also offers a slew of summer programs from mid-June through the end of August. Marine Science Classes are offered for ages 4-11 and cover a variety of topics. Some classes meet three times a week, while others are just two hours long on one day, making it easy for visitors to the island to take advantage of the educational opportunity. Explore sharks, learn about marine biology, study ocean explorers or even learn to surf through these hands-on programs. To learn more, visit www.ematopsail.webs.com.
On the mainland, the Environmental Education Center in Sneads Ferry opened its doors for the first time in April 2014. The center features exhibits of wildlife and natural resources in Onslow County and includes a screened-in classroom overlooking the swamp. The center has a summer camp program planned for 2015 examining Wetland Wonders beginning July 27. The camp runs from 9am-4pm and attendees will learn about animal and plant identification, animal rescue, recycling and other activities that focus on wetlands. To register, visit the Onslow County Museum’s website at www.onslowcountync.gov.