Charlotteans answer a deep, almost-biological urge to leave town in mid-summer.Some go west to seek the cool of the mountains, but most head east, bound for the beach.We have plenty of choices. North Carolina ranks in the top 10 among U.S. states in beachfront, with more than 300 miles of coastline. South Carolina and Georgia offer even more options.One of the easiest beaches to get to is also one of the most appealing: Sunset Beach, just across the state line from much better-known Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. We stumbled across Sunset Beach more or less by accident two decades ago, when it was a quiet, laid-back stretch of sand and solitude accessible only via a floating drawbridge.Compared to the flashy touristic frenzy of Myrtle Beach, Sunset Beach was like traveling through a time portal back to the days when you escaped to the beach to reset your inner clock to the simpler rhythms of waves and the tides.A half-hour walk north was Bird Island, a beautiful, broad ribbon of isolated white sand.Hidden high in the unspoiled dunes was an old mailbox, with “Kindred Spirit” lettered on the side. It held journals and notes. You were free to read and to share your own thoughts, wishes, lies and dreams.Over the years, Sunset Beach has changed a bit. The iconic drawbridge is gone now, replaced in 2010 by a highway bridge. Bird Island is now listed by Yahoo as one of the world’s most unusual beaches, and featured by the exploration site www.atlasobscura.com.Kindred Spirit now has its own Facebook Page, Kindred-Spirit-Mailbox.Still, Sunset Beach’s charm remains largely intact. A local group has saved the iconic drawbridge from demolition and is turning it into a community center and park ( www.oldbridgepreservationsociety.org).Bird Island is now a protected state coastal reserve, with more than 1,000 acres of white beaches, natural dunes and salt marshes.Charlotte-based poet Richard Allen Taylor sums it up best. In a poem, he calls Sunset Beach “a place that gives all and asks nothing in return / except to be left alone.”Getting to Sunset Beach (or any of the beaches in the area, including Myrtle) is as easy as driving east down Independence Boulevard, U.S. 74, and not stopping.Through most of North Carolina, U.S. 74 is named the “Andrew Jackson Highway.” The exception is in Robeson County, near the town of Lumberton, where the road is renamed “The American Indian Highway.” Robert Chavis, Wolfclan chief of the N.C. Tuscarora, spearheaded the change in the late 1990s. Under Jackson’s ethnic cleansing program of the 1830s, known as the “Trail of Tears,” Native Americans suffered terribly. Chavis pointed out that naming a highway for Jackson in Robeson County, which is nearly 40 percent Native American, would be similar to dedicating a road in Israel in honor of Adolf Hitler.A fringe benefit to any summertime beach trip is fresh peaches and peach ice cream. My favorite stop is the Pee Dee Orchards, on U.S. 74 about 1 mile west of the Pee Dee River bridge, about 60 miles from Charlotte. Chesley Greene of Pee Dee Orchards said the farm is now harvesting Contender, a variety of yellow freestone peach, and will be adding Georgia Belles and August Prince varieties in the weeks ahead. Pee Dee also makes delicious ice cream, not just with peaches but with their own scuppernong grapes as well. Greene said their butter pecan is second in popularity only to peach.Another good choice is Peaches ‘n’ Cream, in the town of Wadesboro, about 10 miles closer to Charlotte. Since Peaches and Cream is on the right heading to the beach, and Pee Dee is on the right heading back from the beach, some families visit one stand going and the other coming home.If you can’t get away, at least you can dream of Sunset Beach with a little help from the State Employees’ Credit Union, on University City Boulevard near UNC Charlotte. In the SECU’s waiting room is a watercolor print of Sunset Beach’s old floating drawbridge, by North Carolina artist Jim Wordsworth. The branch has quite a bit of beach-themed decorative art, including photos of North Carolina’s signature lighthouses, but enticing pictures showing paths through the dunes that used to hang behind the teller counter have been taken down. In their place is a big yellow banner warning people to be wary of Internet and mail scams. I suppose that is yet another incentive to get away from the city and head for the beach.UpdateReader and gardener Eleanora Miller reports the unfortunate news that Whitener’s Greenhouse in Huntersville has closed. Our thanks to Whitener’s for its many years of service to local gardeners.
Monday, Jul. 28, 2014
Your trip to the beach: Sunset, peaches and peach ice cream
Don Boekelheide is a freelance writer. Have a story idea or comment for him? Email him at email@example.com.
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