Note to editors: Lisa Campbell can be reached for additional comment at (252) 504-7628 or Karen Amspacher can be reached at (252) 728-1500 or

BEAUFORT, N.C. -- Four new driving trails linking coastal heritage sites along the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway and a new kayak trail in Carteret County’s Down East region have opened just in time for the July 4th weekend.

The four driving trails lead visitors to scenic, historic, recreational and cultural attractions in 21 fishing villages along the byway. The Down East Paddle trail weaves through miles of pristine coastal creeks and sounds.

All were developed by Saltwater Connections, a grassroots initiative founded in 2010 as an outgrowth of a partnership between local community organizers and researchers at the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort.

“The aim of Saltwater Connections is to increase economic prosperity in communities along North Carolina’s central coast by building upon, rather than sacrificing, the unique environments and traditions that make this region such a wonderful place to live or visit,” said Lisa M. Campbell, a Duke Marine Lab faculty member who is widely cited for her research on sustainable community-based economic development and ecotourism in rural areas.

“Duke’s role has been to support the initiative with research on community priorities and values, so that Saltwater Connections projects can better address and reflect them,” Campbell said.

“These new trails are among many programs being developed by our volunteers to give visitors a way to explore and appreciate our coast’s cultural and natural heritage,” said Karen Amspacher, Saltwater Connections’ lead coordinator and executive director of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center on Harkers Island. “We want people to realize there’s more to this place than just sun and sand.”

Guides to the four new driving trails and the new kayak trail can be downloaded from the Saltwater Connections website, Print brochures are available at many Outer Banks and Down East businesses and visitor information locations.

The new driving trails follow the 138-mile Outer Banks National Scenic Byway, beginning just south of Nags Head at Whalebone Junction in Dare County and ending at the North River in Carteret County, just north of Beaufort.

Each of the four driving tours has a different theme:

  • “Traditions, Trades and Treasures” highlights sites in working waterfront villages where visitors can learn about the area’s fishing heritage and traditional way of life. 
  • “Land, Sea and Lighthouses” connects sites that played pivotal roles in the region’s history from early settlement through World War II.
  • “Marsh, Sound and Maritime Forest Discoveries” leads to outdoor recreation sites.
  • “From Dock to Table” highlights restaurants, shops and festivals featuring “N.C. Catch” seafood from North Carolinas’ central coast. The N.C. Catch marketing program was developed by Saltwater Connections.

For visitors who want to leave the land behind, the new Down East Paddle Trails network includes 16 kayak trails, ranging in length from 2.3 miles to 13.7 miles, in the coastal creeks, marshes, sounds and shoals of Carteret County’s remote Down East area, the southern arm of the national scenic byway.

Saltwater Connections has received funding from N.C. Sea Grant, the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. In-kind support is provided by community members and the Duke Marine Lab.

In addition to the new trails, Saltwater Connections maintains a website,, which features oral histories, historic photos and documents collected from the 21 communities.

Lisa Campbell is the Rachel Carson Associate Professor of Marine Affairs and Policy at the Duke Marine Lab. She and her students worked with Karen Amspacher and other community leaders to establish Saltwater Connections in 2010 as an offshoot of a two-year research project, funded by NC Sea Grant, which studied community attitudes to changing environments, cultures and economies in the Down East region. The project included public meetings at which community members discussed how they might use the results of the research to spur sustainable economic development in the region. 

“Saltwater Connections has allowed leaders in all 21 communities to realize the value of regional work that focuses on the character of our individual communities and the strengths of our collective efforts," Amspacher said. "These regional projects – the Outer Banks Heritage Trails, Coastal Voices, NC Catch – are evidence as to how we are truly ‘stronger communities together’ working to support local businesses, protect our resources, share our culture and sustain our community spirit.”  


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