The Flyway Lodge: Family Restores Hidden Gem on Knotts Island

The Flyway Lodge family. From left to right, Savannah Blalock, longtime girlfriend of Clay Dowdey, the owners' son; Clay; co-owner Paul Dowdey; co-owner Michelle Dowdey; Tanner Dowdey, the owners' son; Allison Ceballos, the owners' daughter; and Brian Ceballos, Allison's husband.

The Flyway Lodge family. From left to right, Savannah Blalock, longtime girlfriend of Clay Dowdey, the owners' son; Clay; co-owner Paul Dowdey; co-owner Michelle Dowdey; Tanner Dowdey, the owners' son; Allison Ceballos, the owners' daughter; and Brian Ceballos, Allison's husband. 






Location: 220 Marsh Causeway, Knotts Island, North Carolina

Amenities: Bed and breakfast lodge, wedding and event venue, waterfowl hunting, fishing, watersports, sports courts.

Owners: Michelle and Paul Dowdey. In August, owners Michelle and Paul celebrate their 29th wedding anniversary. Michelle, 50, is from Charlotte, North Carolina, attended UNC Charlotte and was a nurse for 27 years. Paul 51, is from Charlotte and attended Central Piedmont Community College. He has been a firefighter for 17 years. Before that, he was a homebuilder.

Family: One daughter, Allison Ceballos, 24. Two sons, Clay, 21, and Tanner, 13. “The kids have helped with everything” at The Flyway, Michelle Dowdey said, including assistance from Allison’s husband, Brian, and Clay’s longtime girlfriend, Savannah Blalock.

History: The property previously was a family residence visited by Dwight Eisenhower, Winston Churchill and Nelson Rockefeller.

The Flyway Lodge Knotts Island NC

Why Knotts Island?

Knotts Island is a place we had never heard of. We grew up in North Carolina our entire lives and didn’t know Knotts Island existed. People in Virginia Beach don’t know. It feels like you are on the most remote part of North Carolina and a million miles away from anyone, even though you’re not. We’re just 25 minutes from Moyock.

So when and how did you hear about the property?

Back in 2015, we saw it on the internet, but it looked like it had been sold. We actually had a contract on a house in Mathews, Virginia. It fell through. It broke my heart. I was devastated. My husband found the [Flyway] property a year later.

We had a farm on the market, came down on a whim and bought this place [for $600,000] in June 2016. We didn’t actually intend to do this. We were looking for a little vacation spot in the Outer Banks. I can’t explain why we did it. It’s just something that felt right for us.

Who runs The Flyway?

I am living here full time. My husband [co-owner Paul Dowdey] is still commuting as a firefighter. Our daughter, Allison Ceballos, had a vision of having weddings here. She got the wedding industry off the ground after we bought it and was here to manage it until last fall.

How many employees do you have?

We have no employees at this time. We’ve spoken to a couple people about housekeeping. Some potential groundskeepers. We have 26 acres total. Mowing takes six hours. I enjoy it, but it’s a lot of upkeep. We’re hoping to eventually hire some people. Right now, we’re using vendors for the weddings. I’d like to use a lot more Currituck-area vendors. We might eventually have an on-site coordinator.

Paul Dowdey works on the roof of the Flyway Lodge in Knotts Island NC

What was the state of the property when you bought it? What changes have you made?

It was a private residence. A family retreat compound. We're the first people to own it outside of the original family. We've done [$150,000 of] renovation work ourselves. It probably had not been renovated since the 1960s. I don’t know how many carpet tacks and strips we pulled up to get to the hardwood underneath. Painted every room. Redid hardwood. Laid new flooring. Updated the kitchen. Added a modern heating and air system. We still have a lot to do.

What’s next?

The carriage house has 11 bedrooms and three bathrooms. The five-year plan is to renovate those living quarters. We also have 2,000 feet of shoreline and have to put a bulkhead in. Right now, every dollar we make is going back into upgrades and projects around here.

What’s it like to start a business on an island?

Challenging. My son [Tanner] will be getting on a ferry to go to high school next year. It’s just adjusting to a different lifestyle. It’s very rural here. We’ve met a lot of nice people. We love the community. We’re members of the Ruritan Club.

You have to plan your activities and schedule. It’s going to be a commitment of time to go out and get something. But at the end of the day, when we sit and watch the sun go down, it’s completely worth it.

Allison Ceballos at the Flyway Lodge in Knotts Island NC

How many weddings do you have there?

Fall 2017 was our first wedding season, and we had eight weddings. This year, we’re booked up from August to November every weekend. And we are booking into fall of 2019.

What about the spring?

This spring, we had three weddings and a huge 50th birthday party event. People plan their weddings at least a year in advance, so I expect we will have more spring weddings.

Photo by Meredith Ryncarz Photography

There are not many businesses on Knotts Island. What are the advantages and disadvantages of being one of the few businesses there?

This summer, the ferry was shut down for maintenance. The crowds that might want to stay here on their way to the Outer Banks, it’s not very convenient for them. So that’s a disadvantage. The advantage? We like our lifestyle here – slow and remote.

Do you have a relationship with Martin Farm and Winery?

They are an asset to the island and bring people to the island. It’s a friendly environment. We are not in competition.

What’s your business strategy?

To share this piece of history with people while generating enough income to pay for the upkeep of the property. We’ve had conversations with starting the duck hunting lodging in the winter months. We do have two duck blind permits for [Faraby Island], the island we own. That’s our next phase, to get that up and running, so we have year-round income.

How do you find your customers?

Our clients are from word of mouth. We do no active marketing. It’s just social media exposure and word of mouth. A lot of people who have lived on the island for 30 years never knew it existed, so they are discovering it. A lot of people want a room because they are staying in the Outer Banks. They need a place to stay on Saturday night because they are checking in at the Outer Banks on Sunday.

This summer, we had someone from Denmark. They found us on the internet. And people from Spain, Italy. Local people who want a night away. Wedding clients are usually our lodge clients. Everyone who comes out here likes it as much as we do. It’s a really special place. I’m glad that we can share it with people.

What does the future hold for you and The Flyway?

Back in the day, this had a working peach orchard. We want to put some peach trees in and have a pick-your-own business. We have to work with the zoning people so we are agricultural.

Sunset at The Flyway Lodge in Knotts Island NC

And after that?

We knew this is where we want to live and retire, and we wanted to run a bed and breakfast. We didn’t anticipate how popular it would become. We were not in the wedding industry. It’s a new ball game for us. We’ve learned a whole lot. It’s just a fantastic business to be in.

I get chills every time I see a bride and groom together exchange their vows. I’m getting tearful telling you. It’s special, heartwarming. Every wedding is a new experience. I love every aspect of it, from the floral design to the décor. I’m just glad that we found it and it fell into place.



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Phone: (704) 426-0743 


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