Washington, a quaint, historic waterfront town, is place to find art, history, education, good food and beauty all wrapped up in one location, held together by Pamlico River.
Not to be missed is the North Carolina Estuarium.
Located right on the river at 223 E. Water St., it is the world’s first Estuarium, according to Director Tom Stroud.
Estuaries are defined as the wide part of a river where fresh and salt water mix.
“They are vital ecosystems for many reasons, including the fact that over 90 percent of the seafood species caught by North Carolina’s fishermen — such as blue crab, flounder, and shrimp — spend at least part of their lives in estuaries,” he said.
Thousands of square miles of estuaries lie inside North Carolina’s barrier island shoreline.
“Our state holds more estuarine waters that any other state on the East Coast,” Stroud said.
“So many people love the rivers and waterways of eastern North Carolina. We are the only facility that talks about why they are so special, what we need to do to take care of them, and what lives here — in addition to people.”
The estuarium not only explains the science of the region, but also tries to make an emotional connection to the water, he said.
A giant sculpture made of driftwood found in the Pamlico is the first thing people take in. It demonstrates how, from the N.C. mountains all the way to the sea, water is everlasting.
“The water cycle is eternal. The molecules of water that you brushed your teeth with this morning, a dinosaur might have bathed in millions of years ago,” Stroud said.
He hopes the facility will remind people why they love the rivers and sounds in the region as they learn about the coastal rivers that form the estuaries, and why they are so important ecologically.
“We have four rooms of exhibits,” he said.
Some of the exhibits include how pollution and hurricanes affect the fragile life growing in the estuaries.
“Estuaries are like the womb of the oceans,” Stroud said.
Another way to learn about the brackish waterways is by a boat tour offered at the facility. Reservations are required for the free tours offered Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at 10 a.m. and noon, and Saturday at 10 a.m. The tours run through October. Donations are appreciated, he said.
“Some species like striped bass, live in the ocean as adults, but they were spawned in freshwater,” Stroud said.
“They will swim way up freshwater rivers to spawn. When they are hatched, they make they way upriver and eventually go out to sea, until they are ready to spawn as adults. Then they come back to the same rivers where they were born,” he said.
“It is a mystery how they know exactly where they were spawned,” Stroud said.
The building also houses a few live estuary species in display tanks, such a blue crabs, which are “the keystone species to this estuary,” Stroud said. There are even a pair of baby alligators.
“Alligators are uncommon this far up the river, but it is possible,” he said.
The Estuarium is located right next to one of Washington’s most beloved features, the Pamlico waterfront walkway and harbor.
“People of all ages and income levels are able to enjoy the beautiful waterfront,” Stroud said.
One street over on Main, which runs parallel to Water Street, is a serene, eclectic mix of art, retail shops, businesses and eateries.
The Arts of the Pamlico’s restored Historic Turnage Theatre can be found at 150 West Main.
Further up is the posh Hackney, located inside a refurbished 1922 bank, complete with marble floors.
Around the corner on Gladden Street, only steps from the Pamlico, is the famous Bill’s Hot Dog Stand which has served up a simple fare of deep fried hot dogs and a spicy white bean chili since 1928.
At the corner of Main and Gladden is the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum, located in a restored Seaboard Coast Line Railroad Caboose.
The Pamlico itself can be experienced by paddle board or kayak which are rentable, along with bicycles, at several local outfitters. Beaufort County boasts of two recently installed kayak launchers.