Sundae Horn
I am partial to this event.
I am partial to this event.

Ocracoke Events: When They Happen, What They Benefit, and How They Are Funded

Events make the seasons go ‘round, providing fun for both visitors and residents. Events bring people to the island (which provides occupancy tax money – that’s the 5% you pay when you book a hotel/motel room, cottage, B&B, campsite, or AirB&B/VRBO, etc. The county peeps like to call this “heads in beds.”)  

Events have economic multipliers for local business owners outside of lodging, including brick-and-mortar businesses like restaurants or gift shops, as well as side-gigs like music, arts, and crafts. Vendor fairs are a common component of events and those vendors either travel to Ocracoke (paying for food and lodging) or live here already (paying rent, etc. and probably already working two jobs in addition to their side gg.)  

Events give the island flavor and flair – what we value is what we celebrate so you can get to know what a place values by the events it supports. (Ocracoke=food, music, running, heritage crafts, island history, fishing, piracy…) 

Events create buzz. The best advertising is word-of-mouth, followed by editorial – a magazine story is much more valuable than a magazine ad. Events give reporters, travel writers, bloggers, and influencers lots of good material. 

Events tell the story of the island, how the season builds from early spring through peak season, to the fall, and then the quiet winter. 

Events boost real estate value. People like to purchase property where stuff is going on for them, their guests, and their potential renters. (I know there are a bazillion memes about escaping to secluded cabins in the woods, but there are waaaaay more of those memes than there are secluded cabins because people mostly like other people, which is why they vacation in places where the people are nice and provide fun things to do. Ocracoke is small and we don’t have everything going on, but we offer some fun stuff and most of our return visitors like this mix of remote-yet-full-of-life-energy on Ocracoke.)

Events take effort, planning, dreaming, and volunteers. So. Many. Volunteers.  

Events cost money. So. Much. Money. (But not nearly as much as they might cost if everyone involved was paid for their time.)

Events need funding – and this article is my attempt to explain where the money comes from. 

Depending on its size, appeal, or purpose, an event might collect revenues through admission fees, vendor fees, and/or merchandise sales. Events may also seek sponsors or donations. Most of the events on Ocracoke seek some funding from the Occupancy Tax Board. 

Ocracoke's 5-member occupancy tax board makes recommendations to the board of commissioners about how to spend 3% (out of 5% total levied) occupancy tax that each visitor pays for an overnight stay at a motel, cottage, campground, etc. Ocracoke's 3% of occupancy tax (OT) funds are available for "any public purpose" (per NC statute specific to Ocracoke township.) OT money pays for much more than events each year; the OT board usually has about $450,000 to spend and grants funding to the fire department, health center, school, community park, and/or other island non-profits. Each spring the OT board collects request, then holds a meeting and hears the pleas of all the requestors, and then the board makes sometimes hard choices of where to spend these public dollars.

(The other 2% of the levied occupancy taxes is administered by the Ocracoke Township Tourism Development Authority (OTTDA), which is a separate entity. I’ll write more about them later. For now, we’ll focus on the OTB which provides most of the island’s public money for events.)(Edited to add: the OTTDA can and sometimes does support events. Their proposed 2023-24 budget does not include event support.)

If an organization gets an OT grant but doesn’t end up needing the money, it just stays in the OT coffers, which are technically the Hyde County coffers, until it gets doled out again. Ocracoke's non-profits plan ahead for the next fiscal year’s needs and possibilities; they start getting their OT funding requests ready in January and February each year for the fiscal year that will begin July 1. It’s not rocket science, but sometimes it’s confusing that we’re actively producing one event for this fiscal year that hasn’t even happened yet while trying to plan how much money you’ll need for the following fiscal year’s event which is more than a year away because you’re writing a budget in January 2023 for an event in, say, May 2024.) The OT money works on a reimbursement plan – the organization spends the money then requests reimbursement after they spend it but before the fiscal year ends. There’s always a flurry of receipt-gathering every June. If you wanna get something done with OT money, you gotta plan ahead and you gotta have financial support to get you through until reimbursement.

Some events don’t bother to ask for OT money; we tend to refer to those as “self-funding,” but of course, the funds aren’t coming from the organization’s savings, but from income the event generates. Not all events generate direct income (i.e., admission, vendor fees, merchandise) and not all events seek donations or grants. Most involve some combination. 

I started this article a while ago and then realized that all this information would be easier to compare and contrast on a spreadsheet, so I made a Google doc and it’s supposed to be viewable to all at this link:

Please take a look at it. It’s a work in progress because I’m still gathering information, but there’s plenty to see.  

Similar information is listed below. My purpose in this is to show how different events get funded and to foster discussion about the criteria the OTB applies when deciding whether and how much an event should be supported by OT funds.

I’ll follow up with some more details about the spreadsheet if you’ve got more time! Happy Reading!

*Indicates that the event receives OT funds

** Indicates that staff/coordinators are paid by OT funds 

Italics indicate peak-season events between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends

Late Winter-Spring: 

OPS Art Auction March 18, 2023:  ~ Ocracoke Preservation Society (Fundraiser; self-funded; free; OPS staff, volunteers)

Ocracoke RunFest Weekend April 29-30, 2023: Ocracoke 5K and 10K Race & Ocracoke Half Marathon ~ Ocracoke Race Committee (fundraiser for local orgs; self-funded; entry fee; volunteer race committee; volunteer coordinator Angie Todd)

Ocracoke Island Waterfowl Festival April 15, 2023:  ~ Ocracoke Island Decoy Carving Guild (Donates to scholarships; self-funded; free admission; all-volunteer committee)

Ocracoke Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament: May 2023: (donates to local causes; self-funded; entry fee; all-volunteer committee)

*British Cemetery Ceremony & Reception May 12, 2023 ~ British War Graves Commission/ Ocracoke Preservation Society (Ceremony funded US Coast Guard/War Graves Commission; paid coordinator. Reception funded by OT; free, OPS staff, volunteers) 

Memorial Day to Labor Day: 

Weekly events might include OPS Porch Talks, Ocracoke Alive music and theater programs, Ocracoke Library summer reading programs, NPS programs, live music at various venues, events sponsored by local businesses, etc.

Ocracoke Firemen’s BallSaturday, May 27, 2023 Memorial Day weekend 2023 Ocracoke Fire & Protection Association (Fundraiser; self-funded; free – donations requested; all-volunteer committee) 

Ocrafolk FestivalJune 2-4, 2023: Ocracoke Alive (Fundraiser for OA; less than 50% funded by OT; admission charged; paid OA staff; paid festival directors; volunteers)

* ** Independence Day & Fireworks & Celebration (July 2-4, 2023): Ocracoke Civic & Business Association (100% funded by OT; free; paid OCBA staff, volunteers)

* ** Ocracoke Fig Festival (August 4-5, 2023: (fundraiser for OPS; 50% funded by OT; free; paid OPS staff; paid festival director; volunteers)


* ** Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree: October 27-28, 2023 Ocracoke Civic and Business Association (100% funded by OT; free, paid OCBA staff; volunteers) 

Festival Latino de Ocracoke: November 3-4, 2023 Ocracoke Alive (Donates to Ocracoke School; less than 50% funded by OT; free; volunteer committee) 

Unofficial Turkey Trot Thanksgiving Day 2023 Angie Todd/1718 Brewery (Donates to local needs; self-funded; donation suggested; all-volunteer) 

Parade of Boats November 24, 2023. Sundae Horn (low-cost/self-funded; free; volunteers) 

Wassail Party Ocracoke Preservation Society (Free; self-funded; OPS paid staff, volunteers)