Wild Horses Threatened by Development

carova wild horses

The Wild Horses of Corolla

This summer many of us read and perhaps even signed a petition circulated by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund concerning the opposition of commercial development in the 4×4 beaches in Corolla, North Carolina. The response to the petition was overwhelming; it received over 10,000 signatures. Many of the signers made comments about saving the wild Spanish Mustangs and saving the very way of life in Swan Beach and Carova Beach.

Although the petition inspired a lot of action on the public’s part, we were curious about the reason behind the publication of the petition. Is there a history of attempts to develop the 4×4 beaches? Is this a real threat?

We went directly to the circulator of the petition, the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. This organization’s mission is to protect, conserve, and responsibly manage the herd of wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs roaming freely on the northernmost Currituck Outer Banks, and to promote the continued preservation of this land as a permanent sanctuary for horses.

The CWHF was established after at least 20 horses were killed by vehicles on the stretch of road between Duck and Corolla between 1985 and 1996. By 1997, two sound to sea fences were constructed, and the remaining horses were moved north of the paved road to the 4×4 beaches. Despite being referred to as a “sanctuary” for the horses, the land is home to over 700 houses and is a mix of 1/3 public land and 2/3 private land.

carova wild horses

Karen McCalpin, Executive Director of the CWHF, is extremely opposed to commercial development in the 4×4 beaches. “[The horses] are already on the critically endangered, nearly extinct breed list,” she said. “So allowing commercial development in what’s left of their habitat—they have been pushed as far north as they can go—is sealing their fate.”

According to McCalpin, the petition was started by a resident of the 4×4 beaches but actively promoted by the CWHF. She says, “There is a lot of fear on the part of property owners and residents up there that the county might be interested in settling the lawsuit.”

The CWHF Facebook page linked to the petition and stated that developer Gerald Friedman would like to build a hotel, boardwalk, and 19,000 square feet of commercial buildings in the 4×4 area. The post urged readers to think of the wellbeing of the horses.

Many signers of the petition left comments alongside their names. One signer from Pittsboro, NC said, “Once you take it away it will never be replaced.” An enormous number of people stated that they would never vacation in the area again if the development occurs.

“There’s a mystique that attracts people here because it’s so rare and unusual to find that,” McCalpin said. “If you look at our lives and how our lives are so connected to work and technology, to go up there and be able to observe these magnificently beautiful horses living wild and free, it’s just incredible. People are moved by it. People come back year after year for that reason, and that’s clear reading that petition.”

carova wild horses

McCalpin also worries that commercial development would be a strain on the resources of Carova Beach and Swan Beach. Residents pump well water for their homes, as there are not county water services in the area.

“I would be worried about my well going dry,” said McCalpin. “What people are saying is we don’t want commercial development, and we need to responsibly manage the residential development.”

The commercial development conflict began when a company named Ocean Associates, LP purchased about 1,400 acres of property in Carova Beach in 1966. The company would later sell land to four other companies and three individuals, one of which was Gerald Friedman.

The initial intent of Ocean Associates was to develop a residential subdivision and related commercial services. Currituck County had no applicable zoning ordinance at the time that would prevent this development. However, by 2004, when Ocean Associates decided to move forward with development of a convenience store, real estate offices, a post office, and a restaurant, the county had passed several zoning ordinances forbidding business uses in the area.

As a result, Ocean Associates and the other landowners entered into a legal battle with Currituck County, which has continued ever since. In their most recent amended complaint in 2013, the plaintiffs alleged that the county had taxed their property as a business property since 1969 so not allowing them to develop the property for business uses contradicts the taxation.

The two major public concerns that have arisen in opposition to the development are the survival of the wild horses and the disruption of the current way of life for residents of the 4×4 beaches.

McCalpin believes that no one who lives or owns property in the area supports the development for both reasons.

“In terms of the welfare of the horses, and not just the horses [but] all wildlife, when commercial development is allowed on the beach, they’re history,” she said. “And an animal that has managed to survive for five centuries on their own, in spite of us, will succumb. That will be the final nail in the coffin.”

McCalpin encourages those who oppose the development in the 4×4 beach to start with signing the petition, but also to contact the Currituck County Commissioners with thoughts on the matter. ♦

Showing 12 comments
  • Irene

    As a photographer I want to be able to photograph them in their natural habitat. Please do not kill off their lands & water. I want my kids to show my grandkids & great grandkids these beautiful horses!!!

  • Chuck Graham

    I live in South Carolina, I have a few Marsh Tackies that their forefathers came off the islands of s. c. the marsh tacky ass. is tryng to increase the number of tackies, we now have about 320. tackies alive. there are no more wild tackies on any of our state islands. North Carolina has a wonderful gift that will not return, ever, if you don’t take stand now, you will not have a wild horse to show you grandchildren. I have seen the Shackleford horses near Beauford, N.C. They have their own Island, they are left alone, you cand go to their website, http://www.shacklefordhorses.org, see what they are doing, take action now.

  • Barry Sims

    The only thing that can stop a dedicated contractor is money because contractors mean money; money for the economy, jobs, and taxes. Politicians know nothing but money and don’t care about anything but money and votes. They know that people will always vote their party so they concentrate on money. Follow the money and it will always lead to the pocket of a politician. That said; if you want to save the land it will cost you money. Set up a non-profit 501c3 land preservation fund and request donations to buy the land owned by the contractors. If the contractors think they will make more money selling rather then developing they will sell and the land will be saved. Money is the only way people.

  • Cheryl

    14 years ago while searching for a place to vacation I found The Outer Banks. I couldn’t believe I had found an island with wild horses just ten hours away. Last summer we spent our 10th summer vacation on the Outer Banks. It is because of the horses and the 4×4 only beach that we continue to go there and without either we will quit.For some it’s all about making a buck and they don’t care about what they destroy in the process.

  • Jon Post

    Outraged. PLEASE let’s get the rest of the land saved! SAVE the horses! Think of all the tourism money made by people coming to see them and all of those jobs in the tours! GREED can not EVER replace the Mustangs! NC and the Govt should be proud and preserve this treasured resource!

  • sharon hard

    what is wring with these people.. these horses are protected and it seems each year you just cant leave them alone.. you are either taking their land or killing them.. you have no right. I have been coming there since I was a child from va beach… 55 years ago.. I’m now 65, and bring my kids and grandkids to see these wonderful animals God has given us.. leave them alone.. you have no right to hurt them or move them or even make their land smaller.. they shoud be making you leave.. I only pray that God is watching over them and will not let this happen to the.. build somewhere else..

  • Nancy Krysiak

    These horses have been here for 500 hundred years they deserve to live their lives in peace.
    When will the next meeting be held .
    Although I am unable to vote in North Carolina I am a homeowner in Corolla. Please let me know what I can do to help to fight this insane greed
    I am a member of the CWHF and I will do whatever I can to help preserve this beautiful land and these wonderful wild horses.
    If this land is lost it can never be replaced, and what a terrible sin that would be, for generations to come to never be able to share the joy of a wild horse in his wild beautiful land.

  • sharon nelson

    PLease message with information about meeting on this issue. I would like to help organize opposition to the commercial development.

  • Ginny Mavredes

    The greedy only want it commercialized for money nothing else. People now already speak of how commercialize the whole Outer Banks has become. These are people that have been coming there for years and years. There is no need for commercialization in this 4X4 area. These horses have been pushed all the way down to where they are now and that alone is sad. They have been there for years, thru storms, thru hurricanes and now greed comes along and wants to take what they have left. These horses are not only unique but historical as well. To survive what they have survived already is unbelievable. The best thing Gerald Friedman could do is back off and he would be far more respected for that then trying to steal what is theirs and has been theirs for years.

  • Josh Earwood

    Where is the link to the petition?

  • Celeste

    So what is the status of the issue now. I heard there was a county meeting and ‘vote’ in September but it was delayed. I have not heard why or when the next meeting will be conducted.

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