Tammy Proctor’s job is to make sure everyone knows that Pender County is one of the best places to live, visit and retire.
Within its 933 square miles (870 square miles of land, 63 square miles of water), Pender County has some of the most unique topography in North Carolina — from coastal shorelines, rivers and creeks to winding trails, woodlands, historic towns and growing cities. Tammy Proctor’s job is making sure the world knows it’s all here. As Pender County’s director of tourism, Proctor and her staff are charged with getting the word out about all the area has to offer.
“We are the best of both worlds — beach towns and family farms,” Proctor says. “We are history. We are agriculture. We are events. We are art and culture. We are extremely blessed.”
In her six-plus years as director, the area has grown quickly. Families, retirees and people looking for a better quality of life are headed to the county at a rapid rate.
“We are no longer the best-kept secret as a vacation destination,” she says.
Proctor says tourism is the second-leading industry in the county, another reason why her job is so critical when it comes to the economic wellbeing of the area and the people who live here.
“Families are coming to Pender County for the excellent schools,” Proctor says. “Retirees are coming to Pender Country for the excellent climate. Everyone benefits from the quality of Pender County — the parks, the natural resources, the festivals and events.”
People who work closely with Proctor will tell you that she not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk.
“She may be at the Battlefield in Currie in the morning and on Topsail Island that night at a large event or volunteering for bingo night,” says Tommy Batson, director of Pender County Emergency Management. “She lives and breathes Pender County.”
Living on and near the coast, Pender County residents are used to things they can’t control, like the weather. However, the arrival of COVID-19 was a new challenge, bringing with it many hardships but also some unique opportunities.
“Pender County and our municipalities were extremely fortunate because travelers wanted an uncrowded destination that was within driving distance,” Proctor says.
The pandemic required outside-the-box thinking for Proctor and her staff. One idea they had was to turn the county’s award-winning Ghost Walk into a drive-in movie event.
The tourism team also took the opportunity to spotlight the area’s wide-open spaces and natural resources, including miles and miles of trails for every type of explorer. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail, East Coast Greenway, N.C. Birding Trail and N.C. Oyster Trail all traverse through Pender County. The county also created its own adventures, including the Hometown Hollywood Walking Trail and African American Heritage Trail as well as the Sweet Tooth, Seafood, Blueberry and Taco trails.
Proctors’ dedication did not go unnoticed.
“The pandemic and the isolation that resulted for sheltering in place protocols was extremely hard on all of North Carolina’s tourism directors,” says Tameron Kugler, Currituck County’s travel and tourism director. “It is worth note and a big hurrah that Tammy stuck by her county and worked even harder to bring visitation to the area.”
Put a magic wand in Proctor’s hand and she’d wish for a pair of futuristic glasses so she, residents and local leaders could view what Pender County will look like in 15 years and plan accordingly. As in many areas of the country, balancing rapid growth, smart planning, preservation of resources and maintaining infrastructure is a huge juggling act. But Proctor is not daunted.
“We have amazing natural resources,” she says. “What we learned from Hurricane Florence is resiliency.”
The next big project for Proctor and her team is the two-time award-winning Ghost Walk: The Ghosts of Pender’s Past event. The family-friendly Ghost Walk explores the legends, tales and lore of the area’s fascinating past. Long-term, infrastructure is top of mind, she says.
Whatever the future holds, you can be assured Proctor will keep building on successes and plugging away at her job, making sure everyone knows Pender County is one of the best places to live, visit and retire.
“Success to me is making an impact — impacting the economy of the county, the memories of families who visit and the quality of service we provide to our attractions and businesses,” she says.