August 18, 2008

From Atlanta to...Wilmington, N.C.

Wilmington, N.C., is a busy coastal town
Ali Mangkang
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Sunday, August 17, 2008

Wilmington, N.C. — Don’t worry if it has been some time since you’ve laced up your walking shoes. Outdoor options along North Carolina’s southern coast are suited for visitors of all abilities and inclinations...

On Pleasure Island, 10 miles south of Wilmington, this 761-acre park is home to several coastal ecosystems. Walkers can choose from six nature trails ranging from 0.5 to 3 miles.

Before you set out, stop by the visitors center and check out the interpretive gallery, which provides an overview of the biodiversity within the park’s boundaries.

Of particular interest are several varieties of carnivorous plants, including Venus’ flytraps, pitcher plants and bladderworts, identifiable on the appropriately named “Flytrap Trail.”

Park rangers offer free guided hikes and programs throughout the year. Nature lovers can enjoy an extended stay at one of the 83 shaded campsites, which can be reserved for $15 a night.

Visitor information: Carolina Beach State Park is accessible off U.S. 421 on Dow Road. The visitors center is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. 910-458-8206, Free parking and day use.

• Carolina Coastal Adventures. Guided kayak tours with an emphasis on ecological education. 103 Winner Ave., Carolina Beach. 910-458-9111,

• Carolina Beach Lake Park. This park has a .67-mile paved trail, great for a family bike ride or walk, that circles a 9-acre lake. Boat rentals available and facilities include restrooms, picnic shelters and a children’s playground. 400 S. Lake Park Blvd., Carolina Beach,, 910-458-7416.

Drive a few miles past the Kure Beach pier on the southern end of Pleasure Island and you’ll notice grassy mounds that protrude well above the low-lying area.

The mounds are part of the original structure of Fort Fisher, the last major stronghold of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Under the command of Col. William Lamb, who oversaw the improvement of fortifications that stretched 1.5 miles from the Cape Fear River to the Atlantic Ocean, Fort Fisher became a formidable obstacle to enemies and an asset to Confederate forces who relied on the port for supplies and munitions.

On Jan. 15, 1865, however, a well-planned second attempt by Union forces (also the largest land/sea battle in U.S. history until World War II) resulted in the fort’s ultimate seizure.
In 1958, North Carolina leased 187 acres of the original fort from the federal government to develop the area as a historic site.

The area now includes a museum, a recreation area and one of three coastal aquariums in the state.

The museum houses artifacts recovered from the site and surrounding areas (Fort Fisher also is home to the state’s Underwater Archaeology Unit) and offers guided tours of the historic grounds.

Visitor information: Fort Fisher Historic Site Museum is off U.S. 421 just south of Kure Beach. 1610 Fort Fisher Blvd. South. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 1-5 p.m. Sundays. Guided tours at 9:30 and 11 a.m., 1:30 and 3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and 1:30 and 3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Admission is free. 910-458-5538,

• Fort Fisher Recreation Area. Free public beach access, picnic facilities, wildlife exhibitions, special programs and off-road vehicle beach access ($10 fee required for vehicle access). 1000 Loggerhead Road, Kure Beach, 910-458-5798,

• North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. In addition to permanent exhibitions, the aquarium offers low-cost field trips including canoe tours, salt marsh hikes and surf-fishing workshops. 2201 S. Fort Fisher Blvd. 1-866-301-3476,
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