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“Great Little Gem with Lookout”

Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: 1-2 hours
Owner description: The museum houses the region’s largest collection of decoys (old and new) along with changing exhibitions of workboats, community history, commercial fishing, and wildlife photography. It also offers a stunning view of Cape Lookout Lighthouse from the third-story tower. Willow Pond includes an interpretive hiking trail through maritime forest that leads to the Cape Lookout National Seashore Visitors Center next door.
Reviewed August 19, 2013

The only thing that I knew about Harkers Island before my recent visit is that it's remote and has a fishing-based economy. This museum was a lot of information on how fishing has shaped the way of living on this island, and there were lots of exhibits that you could spend several hours exploring. If you're at all interested in duck decoys, this should be a must-stop, as there are many on display here.

Thank ElizabethLilly
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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71 - 75 of 93 reviews

Reviewed August 15, 2013

The museum and heritage center focuses on life as it was in the 'Down East' communities of eastern North Carolina. Traditionally, 'Down East' refers to the fishing villages east of Beaufort, NC, and more specifically (and depending on your source), east of the North River bridge. Nowadays, however, you may see 'talking heads' in the media including Harkers Island, Beaufort and even Morehead City.

There are a dozen or so villages along US Highway 50 between Beaufort and Cedar Island. They have a long and colorful history, based on fishing, hunting, and farming. In days of yore, mail was delivered by boat ('the mailboat'), and most residents' lives were deeply affected by the water - Core Sound, Pamlico Sound, the rivers and estuaries, and the Atlantic Ocean. Largely isolated until relatively recently - I would say the last quarter of the 20th century - Down Easters have maintained a richly distinctive set of dialects, traditions, and lifestyles, all of which are presented in some form by the museum.

Though the museum centers on waterfowling and the decoy carving that became an art form by local craftsmen, who also hunted and fished and so knew what they were about with their carving, there are some excellent exhibits for each of the Down East villages. These are mostly on the second floor. While there are some notes and descriptions with the exhibits, the museum is a bit lacking in clearly presenting some of this information. This can be especially discomfiting to those visitors who know little or nothing about the area. For those of us who grew up in or around these parts, the museum is a wonderful collection of memorabilia and presents a marvelous trip down memory lane.

Exhibits include some excellent examples of boatbuilders' modeling, decoy carving, and artwork. The quilting exhibits are every bit as noteworthy as the decoy exhibits.

The museum is well-maintained, clean, and spacious. Staff are welcoming and friendly, though sometimes a bit disorganized. This is not serious enough to detract from a genuine enjoyment of the place.

There is an observation point on the roof, which also offers protection from light to moderate rains, and presents a great opportunity to observe birds as they pass by between sound and marsh.

The museum grounds are well-kept, with a good variety of flowering plants along the building's exterior walkways. If you like taking flower shots, you can get some good ones here.

This is last year's gallery by Leece:


shows the quilts and the village exhibits quite well. It includes some photos from the rooftop observation point, and some taken along the short trail that runs from behind the museum down to Back Sound and then over to the Cape Lookout National Seashore Visitor Center. This is a great walk, especially if you have children with you. It does run through the maritime forest and along the marsh, so a good supply of mosquito repellent is an absolute necessity.

This gallery, also from one of earlier visits, has some good photos of a little blue heron, taken from the blind on Willow Pond:


Willow Pond is right behind the museum. Take mosquito repellent with you.

Here is this year's Willow Pond gallery:


and includes some good shots of the ubiquitous white ibis that hang out in the area, as well as Willow Pond and the blind.

While here is this year's Museum gallery:


which shows some of the decoys and boat and ship models.

While you can visit one or the other - the museum or Willow Pond - we always do both, and often make a couple or three trips to Willow Pond and the Soundside Trail when we are back that way. Sometimes you won't see much - or at least much that is obvious, which is why we suggest 'looking small' - while at others, the blind offers a continual stream of photo opportunities. Take moquito repellent with you.

The Cape Lookout National Seashore Visitor Center is a couple of hundred yards further down the road, and is also well worth a visit. There is a picnic area across from the visitor center with covered tables, which is a good place to have a lunch or a snack and let any younger kids you may have with you run around and burn off some energy.

2  Thank MikeSteeves
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 6, 2013

Great food, friendly service, would love to visit again. The food is not the healthiest but if you are looking for great fried fish, shrimp and chicken and does't get much better than that.

1  Thank Cristina D
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 23, 2013

I decided to stop at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center after visiting the Cape Lookout National Seashore Lighthouse. The museum is located adjacent to the National Park Service's Harkers Island Visitors Center. The museum itself is open seven days a week, with the hours Monday thru Saturday being 1000-1700, and Sunday from 1400-1700. There is ample parking available in front of the museum. It costs $5 for most visitors, however it is free for active duty military from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

The museum is actually fairly large, with displays covering two floors. On the first floor, you'll find one end focusing on waterfowl decoys from various competitions and for use for general sport hunting. The decoys are either in display cases or up on the ceiling. The ones up towards the ceiling are somewhat hard to see, which is a shame. This is one area they could definitely improve upon, given the entire floor was wide open.

The second half of the first floor is dedicated to explaining the heritage of the fishing community in the local area. They do a good job describing both the heyday of the fishing industry and its eventual downfall. The museum does an excellent job describing the heritage of the community as a whole. The second floor has brief exhibits from all of the surrounding communities. They provide artifacts, newspaper articles or other items that highlight that region.

There is also a viewing area on the third floor. One side has a view towards the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, and the other of Willow Lake. However you can't really see through the trees to be able to see the lake. There are stairs which will take you to the second and third floor. An elevator is also available to take you to the third floor as well.

There is also a nice trail that will take you around Willow Lake. On one side is a viewing deck which you can observe the different waterfowl on the lake. Following the trail to the other end you will find a park bench to rest on while looking over the lake as well. There were a few egrets looking for a meal while I was there, but that was it.

I would highly recommend visiting the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center. With the different exhibits and videos , it offers a different perspective of the history of the region. At no more than $5 or less, you can't find a better deal.

2  Thank wbullseye
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed May 27, 2013

We stopped into the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum to learn more about the history of Harker's Island. The museum is free, there's a nice little gift shop, and it is full of all sorts of stuff, from duck decoys to old pictures from high school yearbooks to information about the fishing industry. As a newcomer to the area (and the museum), though, I found it all a bit confusing. Most of the exhibits lacked the plaques with an overview/narrative that you usually find in a museum to orient you to the material. It might have been nice to read a kind of overview of the history of the island before starting, and then an overview of each activity or item and why it is important to the island's history and culture. Could be a good project for an advanced history class to do.

There are a few trails surrounding the museum and the visitor's center next door. We went for a little hike with our dog, and it was nice to see the vegetation and terrain in its natural state.

Thank Jordynn J
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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