By Debi Lander
Jacksonville, Florida, ranks as the largest city in the country with that name, but it’s far from the only one. Did you know that a half-dozen cities and around a dozen other municipalities also bear the name Jacksonville? Like our hometown, most of them were named for President Andrew Jackson. Have you ever been to another Jacksonville, perhaps one in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Oregon, Texas, or North Carolina?
I recently flew to Jacksonville, NC, where the population is just more than 74,000. Located in the southeastern coastal region, it’s the county seat of Onslow County. This area also includes Richlands, Sneads Ferry, Swansboro, and North Topsail Beach.
Jacksonville, NC, founded in 1842, is the home to Camp Lejeune, a large training facility for the US Marine Corps. With this strong military connection, the residents celebrate with many patriotic parades. They also honor those who sacrificed their lives at Lejeune Memorial Gardens, a poignant, off-base memorial park. I toured the open-air, public facility and discovered moving tributes at the Beirut Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial (second-largest in the country), 9/11 Memorial Beam, an Eagle, Globe and Anchor statue, and the Montford Point Marine Memorial. This last statue honors the first Black Marines who were reluctantly admitted to the Marine Corps between 1942 – 49, a time of segregation. The group became distinguished during the battle at Iwo Jima.
For a lighter experience, I went to sea to learn all about shrimping. I hopped aboard a shrimp boat, a 35-foot wood trawler, at Sneads Ferry. Sneads Ferry carries the moniker, “Shrimping Capital of the East Coast.”
My group of five met Captain TJ Jarman and his first mate, Danny, at the marina for a cruise along the New River. Depending on the season and the tides, charters like mine depart either during the day or in the evenings, but not on weekends. Participants learn about the workings of a shrimp boat, the process of trawling and capturing shrimp. Guests see the towering wings (or nets) lowered and enjoy a ride at about 1.7 knots per hour as the shrimp and other fish are trapped. The nets drag through the water, working like a funnel that forces the shrimp through the nets to the rear tail bags.
After about 15 – 20 minutes, anticipation builds as the nets are raised and the lively catch emptied on a large table. Everyone joins in the slimy scramble of picking out shrimp and crabs and throwing the other fish back into the sea. (Rubber gloves and tongs supplied.) It’s a wild time with fish flipping, crabs crawling, and water squirting about. The seagulls provide a loud soundtrack, but our giggles and yips may have been even more piercing. The Reel Livin’ Charter Company gives the first 50 pounds of shrimp and crabs caught to their guests. The rest remain as part of the crews’ catch. What a fun but equally great educational experience we had!
While in the area, you can also explore nearby Swansboro, another delightful little North Carolina seaside town. I went kayaking where the White Oak River meets the Intracoastal Waterway, enjoyed a sunset cruise on the Lady Jane, Swan Boat, and checked out Hammock Beach State Park. Most folks ride the park ferry over to Bear Island for a day of beaching, shelling or fishing. Swansboro hosts an annual Mullet Festival in November along their cutesy downtown, except, of course, in 2020.
If you are looking for travel ideas, the cities in Onslow County offer plenty of outdoor adventure for all ages. Driving time runs around seven hours. For more information: www.OnlyinOnslow.com.
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photo courtesy Debi Lander
Checking the nets.