The Rachel Carson component is located near the mouth of the Newport River in southern Carteret County, directly across Taylor's Creek from the historic town of Beaufort. This site is a complex of islands: Carrot Island, Town Marsh, Bird Shoal, and Horse Island. These islands are more than three miles long and less than a mile wide, covering 2,025 acres. Middle Marsh, separated from the rest of the site by the North River Channel, is almost two miles long and less than a mile wide, covering nearly 650 acres. Acquisition of the area was completed in 1985, with the addition of Middle Marsh in 1989.
The islands and estuarine waters at the Rachel Carson site are strongly influenced by river and inlet dynamics and the twice-daily tides. Habitats found within the site include tidal flats, flooded salt marshes, ocean beach, subtidal soft bottoms, hard surfaces, dredge spoil areas, sand dunes, shrub thicket, and maritime forest. More than 200 species of birds have been observed at the site, which is located within the Atlantic Flyway. Twenty-three species are considered rare or decreasing in number. The site is an important feeding area for Wilson’s plovers in the summer and piping plovers in the winter. The shrub thicket of Middle Marsh supports an egret and heron rookery. In addition to feral horses, the river otter, gray fox, raccoon, and marsh rabbit inhabit the islands. The American bottlenose dolphin swims in the deeper waters around the islands, along with 52 species of fish. Forty-seven invertebrate species common to the site include mollusks and worms.
Getting to the site
The Rachel Carson site is only accessible by boat. Visitors may use their own boat or contact the private fee ferry services located in Beaufort. The state Wildlife Resources Commission operates a public boat ramp and parking lot along Taylor's Creek, at the East end of Front Street. Visitors usually land on the sandy beach at the west end of Town Marsh and cross over to Bird Shoals on foot.
Visiting the site
A trail guide for the Rachel Carson site is available free of charge here, at the Reserve education office, or at the private ferry services in Beaufort. Town Marsh, Carrot Island, and Bird Shoal receive the most use because of their easy access by boat. Marsh communities, like those of Horse Island and Middle Marsh, are quite vulnerable to effects of use, and should be avoided. Small groups may use selected areas on a limited basis for collecting and interpretive purposes if permission is received from the NCNERR. Special habitat areas, such as the horses’ watering holes and the shorebird nesting sites, are off limits to visitors.