The Outer Banks prides itself on being a family oriented place to live, work and visit. There’s a lot that goes into that. For families living here, Dare County schools rate very well among the state’s systems. There’s also the beach. It’s the reason people have been visiting this sandbar by the sea for almost 200 years. But there is much more to the Outer Banks than the beaches. There are many public recreational spots for all kinds of family activities. Sandy Run Park in Kitty Hawk is just one of those public places that are available for locals and visitors.
Sandy Run Park in Kitty Hawk is not large at all. Located on the Woods Road in Kitty Hawk, it’s a boardwalk and hard packed dirt trail that circles a wetlands marsh and pond. The trail is about a half mile and is completely suitable for anyone from a parent pushing a stroller to just about any age or physical condition.
Although compact and easily navigated, the park is home to a remarkable abundance of wildlife. That’s an abundance in numbers and variety.
As soon as the weather begins to warm, the waters are filled a with friendly and fun to watch turtle—the yellow-bellied slider. The local population is a subspecies, the pond slider.
The turtles have learned to associate humans with food, so anytime anyone stops along the boardwalk, 10 or 12 of turtles, or maybe more, will start swimming to the potential food source. For children, it is fascinating and exciting. Occasionally mixed in with the yellow-bellied sliders will be a very large turtle with a squarish large head. That’s a snapping turtle. They have a reputation as being aggressive; they are not. Actually snapping turtles are quite docile and unaggressive. Watch the turtles for a while and note the yellow-bellied sliders crawling on the snapping turtle’s shell.
Sandy Run is much more than a turtle viewing stand, though.
On the west side of the boardwalk at the end of a stand of majestic pine trees, there’s an osprey nest. For the past two year it has been active from April through September. The first year was quite successful with two osprey fledglings taking flight at the end of the season. This past year, there weren’t any fledglings. The most likely culprits for the failure would be raccoons; raccoons are known to raid osprey nests for eggs.
Osprey are not the only large birds that make their home at Sandy Run. Blue heron are very common. Green heron are also sometimes seen, although not as often as blue heron.
Birds change with the seasons as well. There are some migratory waterfowl that will stop by in the fall and winter, although they do not seem to be permanent residents. This past year there were two double breasted cormorants that were regular winter visitors. It’s not clear if they were permanent residents or had decided to visit every day.
Birdwatchers and young naturalists—keep your eyes in the trees. At least three species of woodpeckers—downy woodpeckers, pileated and red headed make appearances. They aren’t there all the time, but seeing one is exciting.
There are also smaller birds in the trees—nut hatches, great crested flycatchers, sparrows and wrens. Red-winged blackbirds are abundant in the reeds and boat-tailed grackles are common.
Adding to what makes this little gem of a park special, it is a catch and release fishing site. The pond is actually a part of a series of estuarine creeks that connect with Kitty Hawk Bay. This is fresh water and holds most species found in lakes and ponds in eastern North Carolina. There is a kayak launch site. Paddlers can follow the creek to Kitty Hawk Bay, although there is a carry across the Woods Road.
Sandy Run includes a very nice little children’s playground and picnic tables at a number of locations throughout the park. Occasionally you’ll also see a group of young people playing on the basketball court.
Most Outer Banks towns have public recreational spaces like Sandy Run Park. Next time you have some spare time, check out Sandy Run Park or one of the other great public places on the Outer Banks.