Photos and Information about Piver's Island, the Rachel Carson Reserve, Shackelford Banks and Fort Macon

Horses of Rachel Carson Reserve

Photo contributed by Reserve volunteer, Robin Newton. Horses are from the same social group or "harem." Left to right: Sugargoot (lead stallion), Trilobite (subordinate stallion), and Beth (female) in the background.
A Beaufort resident, Dr. Luther Fulcher, placed horses on the islands in 1947. Livestock was also taken over to the islands to graze. With the resident's passing, the horses remained and became feral, reverting from domestication back to the wild. The horses became the property of the state when the land was purchased in the 1980s. There are currently 33 horses on the reserve - 14 males and 19 females. (updated 3/19/2014)
The main food supply of the feral horse is Smooth Cordgrass--Spartina alternaflora
Despite the harsh conditions the horses have thrived on the reserve. During the late 1980s and early 1990s the population exceeded capacity. This led to massive malnutrition and several deaths. The horses are considered a cultural resource; management action was required using a birth control program. This coupled with natural mortality helped the population get near the target number of 30 horses.
The reserve's staff from the Beaufort office oversees the horse management. Individual horses are identified, photographed and maintained. Each horse is tracked for births, general health, social habits and eventually death. Beyond the birth control program, the horse population is treated as a wild herd.

The wild horses living on the Rachel Carson Reserve are beautiful and powerful animals. To many, they represent freedom and wildness for all to enjoy. Let's all participate in protecting them (and visitor safety) by giving these majestic wild animals their space. Watching them from at least a school bus length away (preferably more) will help the horses retain their wild nature and keep visitors out of the way of fighting stallions (pictured above) or a mare protecting her foal.

During the 1940s, Rachel Carson did research at what is now the reserve site named in her honor. The reserve includes Town Marsh, Bird Shoal, Carrot Island, Horse Island and Middle Marshes.

In 1977, Beaufort residents, civic organizations and environmental groups worked together to prevent the development of a resort on what is now the Rachel Carson Reserve. The N.C. Chapter of The Nature Conservancy purchased 474 acres of Carrot Island that year. The State of North Carolina acquired Town Marsh, Carrot Island, Horse Island and Bird Shoal in 1985, with the addition of Middle Marshes in 1989.

This natural area is one of 10 sites that make up the North Carolina Coastal Reserve & National Estuarine Research Reserve. Preservation of the Rachel Carson Reserve allows this coastal ecosystem to be available as a natural outdoor laboratory where scientists, students and the general public can learn about coastal processes, functions and influences that shape and sustain the coastal area. Traditional recreational uses are allowed as long as they do not disturb the environment or organisms or interfere with research and educational activities.

Town Marsh Nature Trails
• Two nature trails can be reached at the northwest beach on Town Marsh. Both trails pass through man-made upland as well as natural marsh habitats.
• Trail lengths and difficulty
Outer Loop Trail - 1.1 mile, easy, trail only accessible at low tide and may be muddy.
Inner Loop Trail - 0.9 mile, easy.
• Bird Shoal, a ~1.5 mile stretch of beach, is a short walk from the southern-most point of both trails.

Carrot Island Boardwalk
• The boardwalk near the eastern end of the site can be reached by boat. It is directly across from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission boating access area at 2370 Lennoxville Road, Beaufort.
• The viewing platform overlooks North River Channel, providing scenic views of Middle
Marshes and Shackleford Banks. This is an excellent place for birding and learning about the estuary environment through interpretive signs.

Rules and Tips for Visitors:
• The trails and boardwalk are open year-round.
• Do not remove or disturb plants or wildlife and do not feed the wildlife or horses.
• To protect natural features, please stay on designated trails and leave nothing behind except your footprints.
• Camping, fires and littering are prohibited.
• Leash and clean up after your pets. It is the law and unrestrained dogs are susceptible to potentially fatal horse kicks.
• Canoe and kayak launches are at designated areas along Front Street.
• There are no facilities. Plan ahead and be prepared for changing conditions on this exposed and remote site.

The horses do not swim back and forth between Shackelford Banks and RCR, but they do swim between marsh islands on their respective reserves.

If you get too close to a wild horse, you could be charged, kicked or bitten. Watch from at least 50 feet. If horses come toward you, move away or, if you can't, stay very still while they pass. Horses have the right-of-way. If a horse stops what it's doing to stare at you, stop or back up.

The wild horses are protected by law. Feeding, touching, teasing or intentionally disturbing wildlife, including horses, is dangerous and illegal.
The best way to enjoy observing the wild horses is to use binoculars and watch them from afar. 

MORE on the Feral Horses.

Overview of the Rachel Carson Reserve

North Carolina Coastal Reserve & National Estuarine Research Reserve
101 Pivers Island Road
Beaufort, NC 28516
(252) 838-0886