We headed down to the North Carolina coast for 4 days in the Wilmington area from April 7-11, 2011. Although I’ve lived in NC for almost 20 years, I had never been to Wilmington. It seemed that every time I had a chance to go it was either my weekend to work or something else conflicted. Everyone knows that if you’re going to see a city you don’t go during a festival. Go for the festival and plan on seeing the city some other time. This was no exception. The Azalea Festival is the primary fundraiser for the Wilmington Garden Club. The festival is held each year on the second weekend in April. With our early Spring this year I was afraid that the azaleas might be past prime but they were in all their glory. You almost overdose on them by the weekend’s end.
When we first started looking for a place to park the trailer, all we could find was a KOA at $50/night. We wanted something cheaper but there wasn’t a Good Sam spot closer than an hour away. That would be too much driving back and forth. We were planning on seeing some of the sights and eating with the Charlotte Travel Club. So we chose a local park, Carolina Beach Family Campground, at half the price. Our luck hasn’t been the greatest with these “family” campgrounds. This was better than most in that it was quiet with good level sites and the owners were very friendly. However, there was a large portion of Redneck living here. It serves as a seasonal and permanent camp for about 60% of the sites. Many have built on additions that are more like shacks. I laughed the first time I went into the Ladies room. Instead of a bench or sofa for sitting down, there was an old bench truck seat…complete with seat belts! Did they think you were going to fall off squirming while waiting for a vacant stall! Oh yes, at least one shower stall had been plumbed by the ever present dyslexic plumber so it was cold on the left, hot on the right. It’s OK once you figgure it out but waiting for 10 minutes and no hot water the first time isn’t fun. Since the season hadn’t started yet, it was less than half full. The camper that peaked our curiosity the most was a man we nicknamed “Mr. Tent”. The “tent” was a blue plastic tarp over a clothesline open at both ends. His bed was 3 tires with a piece of plywood on top and a blanket. He didn’t have a chair so sat at the picnic table all the time. He seemed to know the owners so he must be a frequent guest. We felt like we had the Ritz in comparison.
We were on our own Thursday afternoon so we took Opal for a long walk on the beach at Fort Fisher. Fort Fisher is a NC State Historical Site and home to one of the three NC Aquariums. We didn’t have time to stop at the historical site but will definitely do so on our next visit. More about the aquarium later. Carolina Beach State Park is in the area as well. Although it does not have hookups the campground looks like a good alternative for the trailer. This park’s claim to fame is it’s one of the few places where you can see Venus Fly Trap growing in the wild. There are also several places to launch kayaks/boats here. This is one of the few places where dogs are allowed on the beach. Last year at the Outer Banks she was scared to death by the waves and not thrilled when she took a drink and the water was salty. This year she was still wary but walked closer to the water and kept her eye on the waves as they snuck up toward her. Once she let her guard down and actually got her paws wet. Is there anything better than walking along the beach with the breeze blowing and that smell of salt air? Then home for a glass of wine and dinner.
The festival began on Friday. It has a garden tour (Fri.-Sun.) and a home tour (Sat. only) portion as well as several blocks of street vendors, a shag contest and fireworks. We’d planned on doing just the garden tour. We started on the garden tour with the sites closest to our camp. They included the home of a landscape architect who specializes in water features, an old cemetery, lovely homes and Greenfield Park. Both Steve and I were fascinated with Oakdale Cemetery which has graves from the early 1830’s. Not only was the setting beautiful but the stories you could glean from the inscriptions such as why they died or parents surrounded by five children none of whom lived to be more than 10 years old.
Greenfield Park is a large city park around a lake. You can rent paddle boats to tour the lake or just walk around it. At one spot there are ducks and geese who are very well fed. So much so that the very skitish wood duck was as mellow as could be and allowed me to get quite close for some pics.
The storm was over by Saturday morning but a gray cloudy sky persisted. We’d planned on doing Airlie Gardens today as Saturday is the only day admission was included in the garden tour ticket. With featureless sky and clouds we knew it wouldn’t be a good picture day so we changed our plans. We decided to take Opal for a long walk at a nearby city park that runs along the Snows Cut which connects the Cape Fear River with the Intercoastal Waterway. Then we decided to tour the USS North Carolina which has been in Wilmington since 1960. I’d never been onboard a battleship and found it very interesting. About four times a year, during the Azalea Festival is one, volunteers man the ship in period uniforms from WWII. These men are very knowledgeable about the history of the ship and you can tell they really enjoy preserving the ship and making history come alive. Steve was interested in the mechanics of the ship and the battle tactics. I found the personal stories related by the volunteers and those posted throughout the ship to be the most interesting. While on the Operations deck, a volunteer told us about a sailor who was badly injured by aircraft fire during a battle. He was taken to sick bay by another sailor. The two men never saw each other again and didn’t know each others names or if both had survived. About 4-5 years ago as he was repeating this story a woman said, I just heard a man say that happened to him. Both men were on board for a crew reunion and met for the first time.