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Local Perceptions of Environmental and Economic Change in Dare County 

by Christine Avenarius, Ph.D. 
Associate Professor of Anthropology 
East Carolina University

During the summer of 2013, I, Dr. Christine Avenarius, conducted a study of Dare County residents’ perceptions and opinions about the area’s natural and economic environments. Contrary to common belief, we found Dare County residents to be less polarized on these issues than some had predicted. In Dare County, it’s not simply a matter of promoters of economic growth against protectors of nature. 

With five East Carolina University graduate students, including some who concentrate on sustainable tourism, I conducted hour-long interviews with 208 residents representing a balance in age, gender, residence location, length of residence here and socio-economic background. Participants were not political decision makers, elected officials or news media personnel. We contacted residents by volunteering in the community, participating in local events, attending community association meetings, and writing to alumni of North Carolina universities living in Dare County. 

Our goal is to share an accumulation of local voices in public presentations and on an ECU website to stimulate discussion in the communities about best practices for the future. The project’s title is “Restarting the Dialogue About Coastal Management Policies: Understanding Perceptions of Environmental Change Among Residents of the Outer Banks.” The project was not funded by environmental protection or business interests, but instead by the non-partisan Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation of Winston-Salem, dedicated to “building an equitable, sustainable, vibrant state and communities.”