Decoy making has long been an established tradition in coastal North Carolina. Like other everyday activities that become obsolete with a changing lifestyle, the practice of turning wood into ducks had been taken for granted, ignored, possibly even forgotten. What was once an everyday practice might have become extinct had it not been for those whose love and appreciation for the art had been passed down through generations and outweighed the changes taking place around them.
This has been true for every waterfowling area across the country, including eastern NC and Carteret County in particular. Though decoy making has been a part of the culture for generations, a formal effort to renew the craft had not been made until the Decoy Carvers Guild was formed in 1987. The organization's stated purpose read: "To encourage support and interest in migratory waterfowl preservation, and to share ideas and perpetuate carving, painting and taxidermy of waterfowl and related items."
Decoys have become a symbol of the heritage of eastern North Carolina. Used by Indians as well as settlers, these tools were an essential part of the individual's equipment in utilizing the natural resources for survival. The mission of the Decoy Carvers Guild and the success of the Decoy Festival brought to light the need for a more permanent contribution in preserving this waterfowl heritage. Other institutions in the area acknowledge the importance of waterfowl to the total cultural history of North Carolina, but an interpretation of waterfowling in the Core Sound area has not been made.
In waterfowl areas across the country organizations have successfully established museums that serve as regional centers for perpetuating folk art and occupational traditions. These facilities serve as heritage centers for documenting and preserving each area's unique history, at the same time become important hallmarks in preserving the local traditions that give each its own sense of place through the interpretation of its cultural and natural history. Through the story of Core Sound waterfowling heritage the museum has expanded its mission to include the CORE SOUND STORY ... the history of its communities, the perpetuation and support of its local craftsmen, the importance of protecting its natural resources and all the traditions that make up this coastal way of life.
To accomplish these goals, a facility was needed. The groundwork for such a resource in eastern Carteret County in February of 1992. The Core Sound Waterfowl Museum, Inc. was created and a 21-member Board of Directors was appointed including carvers, area businessmen, and local government representatives. The first meeting took place in March where a preliminary proposal for a museum project was presented. After investigating all the undeveloped sites on the island it was determined that a tract of land within the National Park Service property at Shell Point provided the greatest potential for a museum project. It was decided to pursue a lease agreement with Cape Lookout National Seashore as a building site for the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum.
This proposal was presented to North Carolina's Congressional delegation and to the Superintendent's Office of Cape Lookout National Seashore. With the approval and support of the late Senator Terry Sanford, Senator Jesse Helms, Representative Walter B. Jones and a special interest from former Representative Martin Lancaster, the appropriate meetings were held and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed on November 30, 1993, allowing construction of the Waterfowl Museum within Cape Lookout National Seashore on Harkers Island.
This project also includes a 4-acre freshwater waterfowl habitat area (on site) that has garnered the support and expertise of Ducks Unlimited, the NC Wildlife Commission, US Fish & Wildlife, the Forestry Service, the NC Wildlife Habitat Foundation and the National Park Service. Hiking trails, view platforms and programming is now open to the public throughout the year.
Fund raising for the new museum facility began in May of 1996 with a goal of $1 million for the first phase of site development. This effort was reached in 1997 and clearing on the site of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum began in November of 1997. In August of 1998, the contract for construction of Phase I of the new museum facility was awarded to Thomas Simpson Construction Co. of Morehead City. This contract provided the building shell for the entire 20,000 sf museum building. Contracts for site work and building pad preparation was awarded to L. A. Downey and work was completed on this site development in January 1999.
Construction on the building began in February 1999 and as of November 2000, the exterior is 98% completed (with only back porches and decks to be done) and second floor framework is being completed. Despite hurricanes and floods and the fund raising challenges the fall of 1999 brought to eastern North Carolina, progress has continued, although not at the pace Museum officials had hoped. The economic effects of Floyd drained both local resources and foundation giving as counties inland worked to rebuild their communities.
Since 2000, the Museum has worked on an even more important part of this project “building” the Museum’s educational programming plans, developing the exhibit outline and establishing the committee and staff resources the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum will need to meet the needs and potential the new facility will bring. With the support and leadership of the NC Arts Council and Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, research and planning are now in-process for an exhibit and long-range programming plan that will give the Waterfowl Museum a working vision that will serve the communities of Down East for the future, as well as preserving its past.
Now the Museum board’s goal is to have the educational area of the building completed by Spring 2003 so that Museum operations can move into this new facility to begin the WORK of the Museum. The board and staff have much to work to do to prepare for that move, but accept that challenge with enthusiasm and confidence that the reality of this building will be a constant reminder of what OUR MEMBERS can do.
This project is expected to reach more than $3.4 million in total community investment upon completion. It will provide both educational and economic opportunities to the entire county, but most of all will provide the “people of Down East” a place where their heritage can be shared with generations to come.