Coastal NC

VOL12ISS2 2016

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18 THE ORIGINAL RELOCATION GUIDE — CAPE FEAR NC | VOLUME 12—ISSUE 2 Saltwater taffy. Colorful kites. Skee ball. Ferris wheel rides. Ocean air. The Carolina Beach Boardwalk in Wilmington, North Carolina, is a time- travel machine. One of the few family beach boardwalk destinations left on the East Coast, it evokes a feeling of 1960s American culture through nostalgic, oceanfront activities that often get lost in the fray of today's tech. Wilmington's 31 miles of shoreline lures both tourists and longtime residents — and Carolina Beach is only one of three in this waterfront city. Ocean lovers also visit Wrightsville Beach year-round for fishing; watersports like boogie boarding, standup paddle boarding, waterskiing and surfing; bike rides along sandy coastal trails; ferry rides; and wildlife exploration. It is home to the U.S. Open Fat Bike Championship, the NC Surf to Sound paddleboard competition, and the Quintiles Wrightsville Beach Marathon, a sandy qualifier for the Boston Marathon. When the big, touristy beaches become overwhelming, locals travel to Kure Beach, home to the oldest fishing pier on the East Coast. Located at the southern tip of Pleasure Island, Kure attracts families who want a relaxing, small-town atmosphere — the pier, North Carolina Aquarium and new Ocean Front Park help them do exactly that. Wilmington's water vitality extends inland with its connection to the Cape Fear River, bordered by a one- mile-long wooden walkway that stretches throughout downtown. The focal point of the Riverwalk is the USS Battleship North Carolina, the first of 10 battleships to join the American fleet during World War II. A popular destination for the city's avid walkers, runners and sightseers, this busy footpath also meanders to a series of boutiques and restaurants that include the city's best oysters for 15 years running (Dock Street Oyster Bar), a delectable French bistro (Caprice Bistro), and a 150-plus-year-old former naval-store-turned-eatery (Pilot House Restaurant). City planners hope to extend the Riverwalk further into downtown Wilmington — a sign of the city's growth. Since 2000, the population has increased by 46.5 percent, from about 90,000 residents to nearly 114,000 today, making Wilmington the eighth-largest city in North Carolina. The local economy has, inevitably, also seen a boost: an increase of 3 percent in the last four years (the same rate of growth for the entire nation). This past September, the unemployment rate dropped to a mere 4.5 percent — even less than the state's already low rate of 4.7 percent and the nation's lowest rate in eight years of 4.9 percent — meaning development of the coastal city will only continue. More people translates to a better economy, so Wilmington has become home to a handful of global corporations like Corning, Verizon Wireless and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, now the city's fourth-largest employer. Health takes the top spot for the city's largest job-providing industry (New Hanover Health Network), followed by education (New Hanover County Schools, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Cape Fear Community College) and government (New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington). One thing is key in the success of the local economy: tourism. In 2014, travel and tourism generated $507.9 million in economic impact for the county, which ranks at number-eight for tourism expenditures among North Carolina's 100 counties. That same year, travel accounted for 5,460 jobs and $113.27 million in payroll. Beyond the alluring beaches, Wilmington packs a historical punch. More than 275 years old, it's home to the oldest continuously operating museum of history in North Carolina. The Cape Fear Museum houses a scale model of the city's Civil War waterfront, the skeleton of a 20-foot-tall giant ground sloth and a miniature recreation of the second battle of Fort Fisher. A more than 160-year-old theatre, Thalian Hall, regularly hosts films, events and performances; while horse-drawn tours with period-costumed drivers traverse brick-lined streets leading to the doorsteps of the city's stately homes. Other historic landmarks that can't be missed include the Wilmington Railroad Museum, Burgin-Wright House and Gardens, and Bellamy Mansion, a 10,000-square- foot antebellum home. >> WILMINGTON BY ALYSSA LAFARO Wilmington historic, flourishing, vibrant

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