A worthy experiment

Published 11:19 pm Wednesday, May 2, 2007

By Staff
The state ferry division’s decision to put another boat on its Hyde County summer-runs schedule is, as director Jack Cahoon describes it, a bit of a leap of faith. It’s a leap that should have been made long ago and one that should pay off.
For years, Hyde County residents have lobbied for another ferry run, particularly during the summer. Board after board of commissioners has passed resolutions to that effect and so has the Hyde County Chamber of Commerce. Finally, someone is listening.
Cahoon calls putting another boat on the Hyde County run “an experiment,” so it may not last. But at least he’s willing to give it a shot.
Ocracoke Island is accessible only by plane or boat, so Hyde County residents depend on the ferry year-round to allow them to conduct business on the mainland or island, whichever the case may be. But come summer, the need for that ferry is increased tenfold.
The tiny island village, usually home to about 700 people, experiences population swells by the thousands in the summer because it is a popular vacation destination. Ocracoke Island, and Hyde County as a whole, depends on the tourist season that runs from May to September, so anything that allows tourists more options when traveling from one side to the other is welcome.
Because of the additional boat, a traveler may sleep a little later or perhaps enjoy a leisurely breakfast on Ocracoke before taking the newly added 10 a.m. ferry back to the mainland. It used to be that, even in the summer, a traveler had to be in line at 6 a.m. if he or she wanted to depart the island during the morning.
If he didn’t make it on that boat, the next earliest option would put him in line at noon for a ferry that departed at 12:30 p.m. And that midday ferry is almost always full in the summer, so a vacationer might be bumped to the next ferry, which doesn’t leave until 4 p.m. The 6:30 a.m. ferry will still run, but the 10 a.m. ferry will certainly be appreciated. One extra ferry run may not seem like a big deal, but when a ferry is one of the only transportation options available, every boat counts.
Where that extra boat may count even more, though, is in mainland Hyde County.
No longer will there be that nearly seven-hour lag between the morning ferry and the afternoon ferry in Swan Quarter. It used to be that if a traveler on the mainland didn’t make it on the 9:30 a.m. boat, he or she would either drive for several hours to catch another ferry in Hatteras or would wait around in Swan Quarter until 4 p.m. And a traveler is a whole lot more likely to drive than to just sit and wait.
With the extra boat on the Hyde County run, a traveler can leave Swan Quarter at 1 p.m. That may mean that she could decide instead to come to the county a little early and buy lunch on the mainland. Or that she’ll pick up a few snacks for the ferry ride at a local grocery store. Or that she’ll fill her car’s fuel tank with gas from a Hyde County station.
And in one of the poorest areas of the state, every little bit counts.
Cahoon said he isn’t looking for certain statistics to ensure the extra boat stays in place. But undoubtedly, on some level, he has to be. The move has to be justifiable.
We believe it is, and that the numbers will bear that out. And we appreciate the vision Cahoon has to give it a shot.