BY HILTON HEAD MONTHLY | PHOTOS BY GUIDO FLUECK
THE SHACKLEFORD BANKS OF NORTH CAROLINA OFFER A GLIMPSE OF A BARREN BARRIER ISLAND
Known as an island home to the Cape Lookout National Seashore’s “Banker Ponies,” the Shackleford Banks’ most famous residents are the feral horses whose ancestors are believed to be shipwrecked Spanish Mustangs from the late 1500s. These feral horses walk the beaches, shrubbery and maritime forests. There’s also other island animals — including birds, crabs, gray foxes, and otters.
SHACKLE FORD BANKS
The Shackleford Banks is the southern-most barrier island in North Carolina’s Cape Lookout National Seashore. The main island is 8.5 miles long and roughly a mile wide.
Bordered by Beaufort Inlet to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the South, the Shackleford Banks lie just a few miles from both Harker’s Island and Beaufort, N.C.
According to legend, the Shackleford Banks’ herd is descended from Spanish mustangs, possibly horses that escaped from shipwrecks several centuries ago. At one time people did live on the island, so the horses could have been left behind when the settlers went to the mainland. In 1998, the U.S. government passed a law that protects the Shackleford Banks horses.
In 1713, the Virginia planter John Shackleford acquired several large tracts of land in Bath County, which included Shackleford Banks. Among these was a grant of land containing seven thousand acres. This tract on the early maps was known as Sea Banks. It was then, and is now, part of the Outer Banks of North Carolina’s Carteret County.
Cape Lookout National Seashore was established as a national park on March 10, 1966.
Home to more than 100 wild horses, the Shackleford Banks are one of the few places in the Eastern United States where wild horses can still be seen, the National Park Service said.
Records show horses living on the Outer Banks for centuries and genetic research shows evidence of Spanish ancestry in the Shackleford herd of 110.
These horses are wild, they are not fed nor watered. They survive on the natural food sources available and drink fresh water form the various ponds and pools found on the island.
THINGS TO DO
The feral horses are the biggest draw to the Shackleford Banks, but there is much more to do and see. The area is a great shelling destination, and visitors often find welk, olive shells, sand dollars, scallops and Scotch bonnet shells.
Surf fishing is a popular pastime with Spanish mackerel, cobia, pompano, sharks and red drum making seasonal appearances.
Water sports such as surfing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding are popular pastimes. The gentle waves are pefect for skimboarders.
Birdwatchers love the island for catching a glimpse of shorebirds and waterbirds. Pelicans, plovers and sandpipers are prevelant.
The Shackleford Banks are only accessible via boat, but the Island Express Ferry Service makes it easy to visit. Commissioned by the National Park Service, the ferry service offers two locations for departure: in Beaufort, N.C., and Harkers Island. There are several cruises and tours which offer shelling cruises and horse tours. Book your tickets in advance.
The Shackleford Banks are deserted. You will not find any public restrooms or facilities, so be sure to pack all water, food, sunscreen and items you will need for your visit. Don’t forget to bring bags for your trash.
Keep your distance. The Banker Ponies are feral, and while beautiful to see in the wild, they are not used to human interaction so visitors are encouraged to keep 50 feet or more away.