Cape Hatteras EC partners with nonprofit to preserve Outer Banks land and history

Throughout their nearly 80 years of history, Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative (CHEC) has not only served their members with reliable energy, but also worked alongside the National Park Service to enhance the accessibility and tourism economy of Hatteras Island.

In partnership with North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, CHEC recently awarded a grant to Outer Banks Forever, a nonprofit that raises funds for the National Park Service in Dare County. The grant will go towards the construction of the new multi-use pathway connecting the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to Old Lighthouse Beach and Highway 12 in Buxton, NC.

The electric cooperative first partnered with Outer Banks Forever in 2020, and over the last four years CHEC has invested $60,000 in grant funding towards projects that are expanding accessibility for the nation’s first national seashore.

“Our seventh cooperative principle, concern for community, is essential to who we are as a cooperative,” said Susan Flythe, executive vice president and general manager at Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative. “Supporting National Park Service projects, such as the new Buxton pathway, benefits both the local and visitor populations. Whether through economic development, volunteerism or donations to local causes, we invest in this community because it’s our home too.”

Protecting the seashore

Green sea turtle hatchling (Courtesy: Cape Hatteras National Seashore).

Green sea turtle hatchling on Hatteras Island (Courtesy: Cape Hatteras National Seashore).

CHEC has partnered with the Park Service multiple times throughout their history, including helping Hatteras Island, a critical sea turtle nesting habitat, become “Dark Skies Compliant.” The cooperative changed out all of their 100-watt and 250-watt high pressure sodium security lights on the island with LEDs. The LED fixtures omit less light pollution than the previous lights, improving the artificial light impacts on sea turtles coming to shore to lay their eggs at night.

The two sides have also worked together to encourage kite surfing safety, with CHEC donating signs to all sound side parking lots to warn of the dangers of overhead power lines and encouraging watersport enthusiasts to be mindful of electric infrastructure.

The cooperative’s continued support has helped the Park Service not only maintain but expand their capabilities.

“It is critical for Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative and the National Park Service to maintain a close partnership, to ensure a brighter future for Hatteras Island,” said Flythe. “By supporting each other, we will be best prepared to face challenges that may come in the future and support a strong tourist economy on the island.”

Growing park accessibility

The multi-use pathway connecting the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to Old Lighthouse Beach is part of a larger project by Outer Banks Forever to create safer ways for people to explore the national park. When the pathway is complete, visitors will have the opportunity to learn about local wildlife, fishing and watersports in the Outer Banks, and walk step by step along the route the lighthouse itself took when it was moved to its current site in 1999.

Section of existing Freedom Trail at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site (Courtesy: National Park Service)

Construction of the Lighthouse Pathway is already underway and is expected to be ready for public use by summer 2024.

Outer Banks Forever says that grants like the one provided by CHEC and North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives help support natural and cultural resources and enhance the experiences of park visitors.

“We are incredibly grateful for the generous support we’ve received from Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative and their dedication to supporting our parks and our community members,” said Rachael Graf, community engagement coordinator with Outer Banks Forever. “We can’t do what we do without the support of our donors. To see these envisioned projects becoming reality through the dedication and generosity of so many is humbling and inspiring.”

Honoring the cooperative principle of concern for community, Flythe said it’s exciting to be part of a change that will not only impact the community now, but for generations to follow.

“It is important for us support the local economy and community improvement projects, while still preserving the charm that makes Hatteras Island the unique place it is,” said Flythe. “By supporting projects like pathways that increase access to historic sites while improving safety, and making strides to help wildlife and visitor safety, we are encouraging visitation, while helping to preserve the things that make this island so special.”