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Local oyster farms and restaurants claim their spots on the NC Oyster Trail

The North Carolina Oyster Trail will be accepting membership applications until July 15. So far, several seafood markets, restaurants, shellfish farms and organizations have signed on to participate in this unique tourism experience.

Jane Harrison, North Carolina Sea Grant’s coastal economics specialist, said the trail has been an idea in formation for a number of years. “We developed this trail in close communication with oyster growers from around the state,” Harrison said.

Erin Fleckenstien with the North Carolina Coastal Federation has been working closely with Harrison and the trail crew to bring the trail to life. She explained that there was a need to increase oyster mariculture throughout the state and promote the distribution of NC food products.

The idea is to promote the economic and environmental importance of oysters in a unique, interactive way. “The idea of trail is building off of coastal assets and provide a new experience when people come to coast,” Fleckinstien noted.

Harrison said that so far, many North Carolina businesses have shared their support. Shellfish growers, tourism operators, restaurants that serve locally grown oysters and seafood markets will all be highlighted on the trail. “We want people to know where their oysters are coming from and understand the livelihood of working watermen and environmental benefits that oysters provide,” Harrison said.

The North Carolina coast has the second largest estuary in the country. It serves as the perfect breeding ground for oysters, which Harrison said is one of the “treasures of the state.”

Ideally, the trail will feature a variety of stops, from educational shows to festivals and events to shellfish farm tours and even art aspects. Fleckinstien said that eventually, the team hopes to propose different trail elements to meet the customers desired goals. Right now, the plan is for the trail to be self-directed until all aspects come together.

Harrison shared that out of the applications the NC Oyster Trail has received so far, several have made it past the application phase and are slated to be apart of this unique experience.

One of these partners is Cape Hatteras Oyster Company. Run by Ryan and Bill Belter, CHOC plants, harvests and distributes oysters to companies across the coast. Ryan said they have been in touch with the leaders of the trail and wanted to work to promote this essential marine organism.

In terms of their role in the trail, Ryan said they will “let people come take a look” at their operations and have any questions answered by the crew at CHOC. The Belters supply their oysters directly to restaurants and wanted to notify others of the significance of this trail.

Blake Taft with The Froggy Dog Restaurant and Pub was one of these distributors notified and decided to make the restaurant a part of the trail.

“We were actually approached by our oyster provider, Cape Hatteras Oyster Company,” said Taft. “When he mentioned the trail, we were really excited.”

Taft said the restaurant goes through five bushels of oysters a week. “We really like having local, fresh ingredients,” he shared. His staff is trained on pertinent oyster information to readily answers questions from customers, which will be utilized once the trail goes live.

Harrison urges those who wish to sign on as charter members of the NC Oyster Trail to sign up at www.ncoystertrail.org. She said those who sign up by the application deadline of July 15 will be the first to receive promotions for the trail.

“We have found so many partners that want to promote this, and we hope to get many more,” Harrison said. Those who are already locked into the trail include the Cape Hatteras Oyster Company, Sandbar Oyster Company, Froggy Dog Restaurant and Pub, Wrightsville Beach Brewery, the North Carolina Coastal Federation and the Dare County Arts Council.

READ MORE IN OUR ON THE WATER SECTION HERE.

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