The town of Corolla, North Carolina, begins to stir around 5 a.m. Lazy waves roll across the cool sand. A shorebird flies northeast from a perch atop the only traffic light. Four of the town's 50 wild Spanish mustangs trot through the surf before heading inland to a marsh-grass breakfast.
The most isolated spot on the Outer Banks, Corolla maintains a delicate balance between its unique surroundings and a recent housing boom. "In the past few years, we've seen major growth," says John Bone, president of the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce. The boom began in 1984 when Highway 12 was extended through the once-small fishing community. Today hundreds of palatial beach homes line the route through town.
Each summer, thousands flock to the Outer Banks to enjoy rentals and second homes. Only about 500 people live in Corolla year-round. "My husband Steve and I vacationed here for eight years and finally made the move," Laura Smith says. "Trust me, it took us longer than we wanted!" They love being surrounded by two bodies of water―Currituck Sound and the Atlantic―and say summers are worth the quiet winters. John Lenhart and George Robinson, owners of Bad Bean Taqueria restaurant, relish winter's slower pace. "We're confined to a four- or five-month period to make money," John says. "After a crazy, busy summer you enjoy the off-season."
No matter the time of year, locals can find authentic Corolla by looking skyward. Currituck Beach Light, built in 1875, watches over the town from historic Corolla Village. Carolyn Peifer, the Corolla Light Inn's office manager, says the past and present mesh well. But an approved bridge to mainland Virginia has some residents worried that the town will become less friendly. "We don't shake hands here―we hug," Carolyn says. She hopes the town can stay that way.
(published January/February 2008)