Bald Head Island Conservancy

The Bald Head Island Conservancy has served as the environmental and education beacon of BHI since its founding in 1983 by Dr. Thad Wester.  The Wester family had moved to BHI in the early 1970s as part of the ‘Generator Society’, and it was Dr. Wester’s passion for the island’s magnificent habitats and species that shaped his vision for creating the Conservancy.  Dr. Wester’s noble cause ‘to live in harmony with nature’ serves as the foundation of the Conservancy’s official mission of community-based barrier island conservation, preservation, and education. At the forefront of the Conservancy’s pursuits is evaluating the vitality and vulnerabilities of the tidal creek salt marsh complex, maritime forest, and dune system.  The Conservancy’s science team, along with a growing network of academic research partners, is studying how these habitats change in response to winds, tides, waves, and wildlife use, as well as seeking information that could uncover potential human ‘footprints’ on the habitats.

An important focus of the Conservancy’s efforts is to understand the population dynamics of the island’s abundant wildlife including deer, alligators, shorebirds, and especially its nesting sea turtle population.  For more than 30 years, the Conservancy’s Sea Turtle Protection Program (STPP) has worked to secure the future of these endangered sea turtles.  Every night during the May to August nesting season, Conservancy staff along with a network of ‘nest monitors’ keep a watchful eye over the female sea turtles and their egg clutches. The Conservancy’s STPP involves much more than being a watchdog; it also includes careful scientific inquiry on several aspects of the nesting process including gathering genetic data that helps identify new and repeat mothers and evaluating how environmental conditions influence hatching success.  After 30 years of data collection, the Conservancy has been able to construct a fascinating history of the island’s nesting sea turtle population, and the broad scope of this dataset is critical to the Conservancy’s efforts in protecting these endangered species.

Bald Head Island Adventures

Kid’s Activities at the BHI Conservancy

Kid’s adventures begin with the Conservancy’s ‘Touch Tank’ program that provides young children with the opportunity to handle creatures that inhabit beach tidal pools including horseshoe crabs, sea stars, whelks, and hermit crabs. ‘Touch Tank’ participants also get to assist Conservancy staff with feeding these cool coastal critters.  BHI is also home to numerous reptilian species and ‘Reptile Round-Up’ allows kids to handle live snakes and turtles, turtle shells, snake sheds, and much more!  For kids with an interest in fishing, the Conservancy operates several programs where children learn rod and reel operation, cast netting, and seine netting.  For older kids (11-14) with a special interest in science and conservation, the Conservancy’s ‘Junior Scientist’ summer program offers opportunities to work directly with staff scientists on any number of our barrier island conservation projects.

Sea Turtle Adventures

A ‘Ride-Along’ with Conservancy staff in a UTV on turtle patrol at night (900 PM to 200 AM) is a wonderful way to actively participate in the Conservancy’s sea turtle protection program.  Witnessing a turtle emerging onto the shore to lay a nest or seeing a nest ‘boil’ is sure to provide a lifelong memory.  Additionally, visitors may also participate in the wildly popular ‘Turtle Walk’ (must be member of BHI Conservancy), which includes a brief presentation about the Conservancy’s renowned sea turtle protection program and sea turtle biology followed by a nighttime trek to see a hatching event or turtle nesting (900 PM to midnight).

Guided Nature Adventures

Several types of guided nature tours are available through the BHI Conservancy. The ‘Island Nature Tour’ guides visitors across BHI through the island’s many wildlife hotspots including the pristine beaches, maritime forest, and salt marsh.  Guided tours focused on viewing the more than 200 species of BHI birds are a favorite any time of year.  Visitors can experience fantastic views of abundant heron, ibis, and warblers, as well as the nesting Bald Eagles in spring and the beautiful Painted Buntings in late spring and summer.  The male Painted Bunting is often described as the most beautiful bird in North America and BHI trees are cherished homes for these avian islanders! Another favorite birding adventure is the ‘Ibis Sanctuary’ tour amongst the quiet solitude of Middle Island, a preserved private area within the Smith Island complex that is only accessible with Conservancy staff.  This spectacular roosting of dozens of birds amidst a beautiful freshwater pond is truly a must-see. For all nature tours, make sure to bring a camera!

Hiking Adventures

Bald Head Woods is a 191-acre preserved maritime forest tract located at the heart of Bald Head Island.  This pristine nature preserve is part of the NC Coastal Reserve system and features large, old, and fascinatingly twisted live oaks as well as the Cabbage palmetto in the dense understory (see http://www.nccoastalreserve.net/web/crp/bald-head-woods). Wild olive, American holly, yaupon, and red bay trees among others also help form a thick undergrowth home to foxes, squirrels, raccoons, deer, and opossums, as well as Carolina wrens, cardinals, and painted buntings that lurk above.  Nearly 2 miles of hiking trails exist in Bald Head Woods for self-guided tours of the lush maritime forest.  Another favorite hiking spot on BHI is the Kent Mitchell Trail which meanders along the edge of the lush salt marsh fringing Bald Head Creek.  The beauty of the salt marsh comes alive amongst the red cedar, oak, and holly trees that dot the ‘hammocks’ (tiny sand islands) of the Kent Mitchell Trail.

Kayaking Adventures

Exploring the unspoiled tidal creeks of Bald Head Island on a guided kayaking trip with BHI Conservancy naturalists is an absolute must for those that want to immerse themselves in the beauty of the salt marsh and learn about the importance of these vibrant habitats.  Low tide kayaking tours are also available for those that want to discover the unique critters that are hidden beneath the water at higher tides.  You won’t believe what lives in the marsh mud!

Turtle Trot 5K

Island adventurers that want get some additional exercise while enjoying the natural beauty of Bald Head Island may want to test their stamina in the BHI Conservancy’s Turtle Trot 5K races.  Participants can choose to run as fast or as slow as they’d like as they move through the island’s ancient maritime forest and over the pristine beaches with a third of the race takes place on the sandy shores of BHI.  The 5K race series is a great way for those living on the mainland to explore BHI via the Conservancy’s ‘off-island option’ that includes a ferry ticket and transportation to the Conservancy.

 

Island retreats are available at the BHI Conservancy for groups that want spend a few days and explore all that BHI has to offer.  The BHI Conservancy campus includes include a multimedia theater and a fully equipped dormitory space with a kitchen, living area, and laundry facilities.  For more information visit BHIC.org.  Please come see us any time of year; we would love to share an adventure with you on the majestic Bald Head Island!


  Written by Chris Shank | Photographs provided by BHI Conservancy

 

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