"Move over, Florida and Hawaii," writes the Associated Press. "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 [and N.C. State grad] - 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 of 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 ind that in the world?"
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.
This rise to the top spot shouldn't be too surprising. "Dr. Beach" has consistently ranked Ocracoke highly on his list. The island ranked No. 3 in 2006 and No. 2 in 2005. But, by winning this year, it will be retired from consideration, along with other past champions.
"Earning the No. 1 ranking on the 'Dr. Beach' list is usually a tourism booster," writes the AP. "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. ..."