6.3. Cape Lookout and Place Identity
The place meanings described by study participants are informed by their place identity, which is comprised of individual identity, family identity, and community identity. The values that make up these three identity types are contained in the dimensions of CALO as home, with the Lighthouse being a symbol of this home, and CALO as heritage, which includes concepts of deep roots, family memories, and Banks tradition. Elements of participants’ place identities were strongly linked to intangible cultural resource values rather than tangible cultural resources, as one participant explained, “my connection is one that is primal … it’s almost like a genetic fabric of my being”.
Individual Identity. A sense of individual identity was strong across the majority of participants’ narratives. All but two participants, who explained that CALO lost meaning to them either when they moved off the island or when the NPS gained ownership of the buildings, expressed emotional connections to CALO and the historic districts, and described CALO as home. For some participants, CALO literally was once their home or vacation residence. Other participants who never lived there or did not own property there still considered themselves to be “at home” whenever they visited CALO. Similarly, nearly all of the participants commented on the differences in meanings for people who were born and raised in the “Down East” area (the mainland adjacent to CALO) and grew up “in the light” of the lighthouse to those who moved to the area (“dingbatters”) and those who just visited to use CALO for recreation such as sport fishing. These participants felt that CALO was an innate part of themselves and expressed that their lives and personal identities were inextricably linked to CALO as their “true” home, regardless of their past and current residence status, and they carried these connections with them. Most of the participants’ narratives revealed many deep emotional connections and sentimental values associated with the memories that were made at CALO, so much so that some participants described how leaving the island after visiting is quite painful, and that returning is a great relief.
Family Identity. Participants’ connections to CALO also heavily inform their family identities, which in this case include both ancestral identity and direct experiences of family activities and memories. Many participants described having ancestors who worked for the Life-Saving Service and the Coast Guard, as well as ancestors who were commercial fishermen in the area. Participants identified with these ancestors and their immediate family members, who truly embodied a seafaring/maritime existence. Participants also placed great importance on their family memories that were associated with CALO, describing the countless weekends and summers at CALO with their families. Participants described this family time as truly “quality time” and a major aspect of their family identities.
A subtheme that emerged from interviews regarding family and ancestry was the concept of roots in place and how those ancestral and familial roots informed identity and kept community members feeling connected to their cultural heritage. Living life, growing up, and spending family time on and near “The Banks”—the local name for the islands that constitute CALO—held extraordinary meaning for community members. Not surprisingly, participants also expressed a strong desire to pass on family stories and traditions to future generations so that they could continue to enjoy and feel connected to their special place.
Participants’ place meanings also revealed a strong sense of community identity, which included “meanings associated with local character and culture” [16
] (p. 387). Participants were very proud of CALO’s rich and unique history and the history of the area and its people. Community heritage and identity was heavily associated with a connection to the ocean environment and the harsh but beautiful seafaring lifestyles lived in tight-knit communities. Preserving the community’s way of life through its physical remains was a common sentiment. In addition to pride in community heritage and history, participants revealed a strong sense of friendship and community cohesiveness that resulted from the connections to other families who spent their time at CALO and lived in the area.
Cape Lookout Lighthouse: The Symbol of Home. The conceptions of individual, family, and community identity in relation to CALO described above are also deeply tied to the image of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. The Lighthouse has become symbolic of the place meanings that are associated with CALO, and is considered a “cultural icon”. It is a sentinel of personal and ancestral connections to place, with participants also describing it as being symbolic of the idea of CALO as home. Furthermore, it is seen as a source of reverence as it is a symbol of a strong and resilient community. “I learned at an early age it’s revered … it’s revered by the locals. It’s their lighthouse. … it represents a building of stability. We’ve been through the storms, we’ve weathered every kind of situation you can weather, and since 1859 that has stood like a rock. So people revere it.”
6.4. Cape Lookout and Place Dependence
Participants’ descriptions of their place connections also exemplified the concept of place dependence. Elements of place dependence are evident through responses in which participants describe CALO as an escape and as sustenance. These elements of place dependence were more tied to tangible cultural resources, unlike elements of place identity that were more strongly associated with intangible cultural resources.
Escape: Sacred Retreat, Recharging, and Recreation. CALO conceptualized as escape encompassed meanings that included the place being considered a “sacred retreat” and a place that held strong spiritual value. For example, one participant explained, “You know, it’s almost like sacred ground … we literally treat the place like it’s sacred”. CALO was commonly described is a place where one can spiritually and mentally recharge by removing themselves from modern daily life and feel. Participants expressed the belief that this particular place positively impacts their mental health and overall well-being by expressing such sentiments as, “I actually go there to regain my sanity.” Participants also depend on the island and surrounding waters as the place they prefer to recreate or vacation and where they enjoy themselves and enjoy existing the most.
Livelihood and Sustenance. Community members also conveyed that CALO is a critical source of livelihood and sustenance. Participants also noted the historical importance of CALO’s land and its surrounding waters as the sole means of subsistence and livelihood for past residents. As far back as the whaling and lightering industries, CALO residents made their livings from what the land and sea had to provide, and the experience of surviving on the sparse provisions obtained from fishing and hunting is highly valued by CALO community members. Commercial fishing has been a fundamental activity of CALO residents and the residents of the surrounding communities since the very early settlements on the island, and persists as an important source of income for a large portion of the areas surrounding CALO. Additionally, several participants themselves, as well as many of the residents of the surrounding areas, still make a living from guiding fishing and/or hunting trips as well as from private sightseeing tour services. In addition to commercial and recreational fishing, many community members participate in fishing, clamming, oystering, and hunting as a subsistence or supplemental source of food. Overall, both currently and historically, fishing and hunting traditions are fundamental values of CALO culture.
6.5. Perceptions of Vulnerability and Change: Timing Is Everything
Interviews revealed two equally threatening, overarching issues: (1) climate impacts and (2) deferred maintenance/neglect, including the exacerbation of maintenance issues by weather and storms. However, another threat, the aging community, was also discussed as a source of what is making the districts and their cultural heritage vulnerable to losses. For example, one participant explained, “After my generation is gone, there’s not gonna be any connections there. Not personal connections. And that’s not gonna be long.”
Despite the rural, conservative nature of eastern North Carolina and general public opinion polls on climate change beliefs (e.g., McCright and Dunlap [44
]), all of the participants accepted that CALO was threatened by the impending climate change impacts and sea level rise. Many participants even offered anecdotes illustrating how climate change has impacted them personally or the area in general. Yet, many participants also voiced that, although climate impacts may be the most destructive threats to CALO, they believed that most of the climate change impacts would be unlikely to occur in their lifetime. Participants generally judged sea level rise to be an impact that would occur within the next 50–100 years. It is important to note that while participants viewed these climate impacts as unavoidable and quite catastrophic, they deemed them to be a problem that can’t be fixed, generally explaining that “Mother Nature” will have her way with the buildings in the districts and we are powerless to stop it. Other climate-related impacts included short-term weather patterns and associated flooding and erosion.
In general, participants identified “neglect” (i.e., the term that community members used to describe the deferred maintenance and deteriorating condition of many of the historic buildings) and “weather” (i.e., hurricanes and nor’easters) as being the most immediate
threats to CALO’s cultural resources, which were perceived as both having “taken a toll” already on the cultural resources and being the most salient threats throughout the next 25 years. These threats were perceived as being somewhat manageable through the proper maintenance and care of the structures; neglect was perceived as the most fixable problem. Participants thought improving maintenance would help immensely to curb weather impacts (i.e., reduce the sensitivity of the buildings, which is an adaptation strategy acknowledged by the NPS [35
]). One participant described the difficulty of striking a balance between maintenance and natural forces, stating, “I think neglect is the biggest deal… It’s a battle of corrosions… salt and sun and all sorts of stuff”.
To conceptualize threats to the historic structures within a temporal context, we developed a timeline to illustrate the perceived vulnerabilities (Figure 2
). As previously mentioned, deferred maintenance (i.e., “neglect” in the voice of our participants) was the most pressing, current threat. In the next 25–50 years, participants expect that community members with connections to CALO will have all passed away, leaving only children and grandchildren with less direct connections to carry their cultural meanings into the future. Flooding and erosion were also perceived as being unavoidable threats, but participants did not expect to see these impacts for at least 25 years or more. Lastly, participants perceived that the structures would be vulnerable to impacts from sea level rise between 50–100 years from now.
6.6. Adaptation and Impacts to Place Meanings
Speaking strictly of the historic buildings, our analysis suggests that community members’ place meanings would be most directly impacted by the loss of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. However, the Portsmouth church and other community buildings were mentioned as tangible resources important to their heritage. Some participants expressed how the meanings that were associated with personal homes were lost during the land acquisition, while others expressed similar pain associated with the loss of private residences when their leases expired. As though they had already mourned the loss of their homes and their personal connections to those buildings, some participants described the sense of loss in the past tense, and many noted that climate impacts would not affect their connections to CALO, the community, or their heritage. Nevertheless, most of the participants avowed they would feel a sense of connection to CALO with or without specific structures, because their place meanings are based on the intangible values of the place. In fact, many participants’ place meanings were so strong that they trusted that their place connections would persist, because they hold the values within themselves and within the community. “People. People that not only lived and worked those islands and the past history, but also the people that created what’s now Cape Lookout National Seashore… That’s the true resource we have.”
When prompted to discuss the potential adaptive strategies, the actions identified fit into three basic categories: (1) landscape or structural changes, (2) maintenance and restoration, and (3) interpretation. In terms of structural and landscape changes, some participants voiced support for beach nourishment, which was perceived as one of the least culturally invasive actions that could be taken to slow the effects of erosion. Conversely, there was no support for more permanent landscape changes such as groins or jetties, with participants explaining the “temporary” nature of such fixes and the inability of such structures to respond to the changing environment of barrier islands (e.g., “A dynamic inlet needs a dynamic solution”).
A few participants reluctantly showed some support for elevating or moving buildings as preferable to total loss of the structures, explaining, “I mean, it’s raise it, move it, or lose it. Those are your only options”. Others felt that science should inform these decisions, stating, “Analyze what impact the projected sea level rise is going to have on these buildings that they have out there and maybe put that in their plan if they need to be moved or elevated.” Others expressed ambiguity or had a difficult time grappling with the value of these actions. For example, one participant explained, “I’m not sure what the value is in trying to raise a house ‘cause… you gain saving everything above that level, but you lose how its people used to live.” However, most of the participants did not support these drastic actions due to the detrimental effect on the integrity and character of the historic districts, explaining, “I just can’t imagine it there. It would lose its soul.” Despite a general lack of support for moving and elevating buildings, some of the participants were more supportive of either moving or raising structures and not receptive to the other. Again, the preference for moving structures corresponded to the perception that the authenticity and integrity of the architecture were the more important attributes to consider, while those participants who advocated raising structures over moving them supported these beliefs by explaining the importance of keeping the structures in their original context.
Overall, whether they supported structural and landscape adaptations or not, participants frequently acknowledged that these engineered solutions are likely to have unintended consequences (“something else is gonna change down the road”), which could potentially be even less desirable than just leaving the buildings as they are, and would definitely impact the “feeling” of the place and connections to “how people used to live”. As such, most participants largely did not want to see drastic measures such as moving and raising structures, because it would impact the cultural meanings and still be only temporary (“Be knowledgeable of the fact that it can only last so long”), with natural forces reclaiming the structures inevitably. Some informants felt that there really was no way to address the problems of climate change vulnerability other than letting “nature take its course”.
Increased restoration and maintenance was, on the whole, the most popular strategy discussed by participants, which was considered preferable to expensive, drastic measures. They considered strengthening the buildings against current and future impacts to be the most worthy use of time and money. Most of the participants wanted to see resources spent on improving the resilience of structures against shorter-term threats such as weather and storms, explaining, “Shore up the buildings, make sure they’re sound and that strong winds aren’t going to blow them down.” Similarly, concern about the loss of cultural integrity from neglect was much more salient in the minds of participants than losses that might be sustained from natural causes or climate impacts. They felt that losing structures to neglect was a much more egregious offense to their culture and place meanings than losing structures to “Mother Nature”. Although they would be sad about losses from inevitable climate impacts, they did not think it would be wise to spend too much time worrying about an inescapable future, explaining, “You can put money in [something], but it’s just gonna go away in the next 15 years anyway.” Maintenance, on the other hand, was perceived by participants as an action that would keep cultural heritage intact for as long as possible, and some participants even expressed a willingness to partner with the NPS to get the work done, explaining:
“I hope the Park Service will take another house and begin working on fixing that up. And again, if done one house at a time, if we can do a house and they can do a house, with the idea that, maybe not necessarily open up for exhibition, but at least restore it enough that it’ll be preserved, then I think that’ll work.”
Similarly, community members envisioned the third-party leasing of structures as a means to overcome the budgetary shortfall, explaining, “The Park Service doesn’t have a reliable source of funding. Sometimes they get a lot of money, sometimes they get no money… So, they don’t really have a way of keeping up stuff, or don’t appear to have a way of keeping up buildings.” Specifically referenced was a previous but unimplemented plan for Cape Lookout Village: “I think a lot of those people were doing a good job and helping the park save a little bit of money and it was a good working relationship with them.” Regardless, participants most enthusiastically expressed the importance of involving the public in planning. They argued that getting people interested, connected to, and invested in preservation is essential for successful adaptation planning and the continuation of place connections among younger and future generations, explaining, “There needs to be more community involvement… Once it becomes sterile, then you’re just riding people over to look. People need a connection. And that’s true of everything.” As such, local knowledge was highly valued by participants, and they expressed that community cohesiveness was an important part of their culture.
Support for increased interpretation was essentially unanimous. Participants advocated for more public displays to represent CALO culture and its community’s way of life. Some of the participants also argued for the inclusion of signage for more of the non-extant structures to explain what used to be there, who used it, and why it is gone. One participant even recommended that digital displays of remnant buildings could enhance preservation of cultural heritage, stating “Maybe if they can if they can preserve just… even the foundations and… maybe what we’ll have is a more digital display… just some sort of electronic version of being able to experience that, as opposed to a physical version of it because that may be all you have.” Many participants also articulated a desire for increased documentation, research, oral histories, and other forms of off-site cultural preservation. Importantly, most of the participants expressed hope that CALO’s cultural heritage would be documented as thoroughly as possible so that future generations would at least have the opportunity to learn about CALO and its community.
In summary, interpretation and documentation strategies were largely considered more favorable than costly structural or landscape adaptations, since participants generally accepted that the physical structures, and possibly the island itself, would be partially, if not completely, lost eventually. “You’re living on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s probably the most powerful force on the planet. So, there are certain things that you might be able to do, and certain things that you’re just helpless to prevent.” Participants also conveyed the critical nature of understanding the potential ramifications of any adaptive measures, cautioning against half-measures that may end up being more wasteful than helpful, as well as unintended impacts to nearby resources and place meanings. Ultimately, participants were hopeful that maintenance and restoration—and partnerships with community members or third-party leases—would provide enough time for future generations to develop their own connections to CALO and its culture. “I just hope and pray that we can somehow maintain those buildings so our, your children, and my grandchildren can actually see those places and walk up and touch those things and touch history.”