Ocracoke Island becomes top beach


Dr. Beach's 10 best U.S. beaches

The best beaches for 2007, according to rankings
compiled by Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a coastal expert
and a professor at Florida International University
in Miami known as "Dr. Beach."

1. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, Outer Banks, N.C.
2. Caladesi Island State Park, Clearwater, Fla.
3. Coopers Beach, Southampton, N.Y.
4. Hanalei Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
5. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Mass.
6. Hamoa Beach, Maui, Hawaii
7. Main Beach, East Hampton, N.Y.
8. Coronado Beach, San Diego, Calif.
9. Lighthouse Point Park, Daytona Beach, Fla.
10. Siesta Beach, Sarasota, Fla.

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Move over, Florida and Hawaii. Your beaches are no longer the best.
The nation's best place to get a tan and enjoy the ocean's waves
in 2007 is North Carolina's Ocracoke Island, a place so remote that
even people in the offices of "Dr. Beach" - Florida International
University professor Stephen Leatherman - didn't know where to find
it on the map.
"It's not the end of the world, but you can see it from here,"
Leatherman said from Ocracoke, the first beach not in Florida or
Hawaii to earn the top spot in his annual ranking of the nation's
top 10 spots on the shore.
Technically, it's Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach that is the
nation's best. But Leatherman said there's little that separates
those 300 yards postcard-perfect sand from the rest of the island,
almost all of which is protected from development as part of the
Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
"Here, you have 14 miles of unspoiled, undisturbed barrier
beach," said Leatherman, director of Florida International's
laboratory for coastal research. "Where do you find that in the
Ocracoke is at the southern end of the Outer Banks, the fragile
chain of barrier islands along North Carolina's coast known as the
"graveyard of the Atlantic." Accessible only by boat or private
plane, there are only about 800 full-time residents of the island
where the pirate Blackbeard met his untimely death at the hands of
the Royal Navy in 1718.
"People shouldn't come here to play golf, and don't come here
for the Hilton spa or something like that," Leatherman said.
"They're not going to find those things here. What you will find
here - it's like going back in time with very quaint, small inns.
It's my favorite getaway island beach. And it's definitely that."
Ocracoke has been a favorite of "Dr. Beach" for years - he
ranked it No. 3 in 2006 and No. 2 in 2005. By winning this year, it
will be retired from consideration, along with other past
"Obviously, it's a great honor to be put up at the top of the
heap," said Julia Howard, the administrator for the Ocracoke
Island Museum and Preservation Society, who has lived on the island
for 35 years.
Leatherman ranks beaches on 50 criteria, using a 1 to 5 scale.
No beach has ever gotten all 250 points, and Ocracoke ranked
somewhere in the 230s, he said. The sand, for example, isn't lily
white, so it lost points there.
He considers only swimming beaches, which leaves out those along
the Maine and Oregon coastlines, where the water is just too cold.
Beaches with lifeguards get high points, as do those that balance
the natural environment and the built environment.
"I'm just a stickler for detail," he said. "There's no
perfect beach by the rating criteria, but there are so many great
Earning the No. 1 ranking on the "Dr. Beach" list is usually a
tourism booster. When the north beach at Florida's Fort De Soto was
named the best in 2005, Leatherman said, the number of hits on a
related Web site jumped in one day from 1,000 to 10,000.
But the remote nature of Ocracoke and its place as part of a
national seashore should spare the island's 25-foot sand dunes,
topped by sea oats, from an onslaught of beachcombers.
"When things are inundated with people, it isn't quite the same
place any more," Howard said. "We hope people who do come here
would honor our beauty and keep it looking the way it does for a
long time."