Jockey's Ridge: Breathless Oasis

Brittney Wheatley (2012)

I have left the plain, and each sinking step brings my wandering mind back to that realization. The grains of sand pivot around your skin until you’ve sunk ankle deep; from the bottom of the dune you look like a human growth on the East Coast largest sand dunes. From the bottom of the first dune I felt that I was about to climb a really short mountain. Breathless at the top, the trail of footprints looks like I stumbled, but no one would pay much attention to my footprints here. The expanse of sand and the lack of a beaten path make my leftover markings unremarkable to other people.


There are people here; at one count I spotted 28 people, but from where I stood, each individual was an ant. A football stadium full of fans could walk on to Jockey’s Ridge, go in separate directions and not meet their friends again for at least 24 hours. To me this is better than being at the beach; the quiet where I can only hear wind whistles and uses the nearest American Beach Grass as an alternative instrument. The reeds are sparse in number overall, nestled close to the small puddle shaped lakes coming from heavy rain in the valley of the dunes.


The plant life was a surprise when I walked up the first dune. I paused in at the patch of forest areas spread out in front of me and exclaimed: “Oh my gosh, there’s trees! There’s like this random patch of trees.” Inside the forests, live oaks, red cedars, wax myrtle, bayberry, and read
oaks only make up a portion of the maritime thinckets. Per typical of arial perspective, the patches looked more like broccoli bits separated on the plate. Expanses of desert shorter dunes than the one I stood mesmerized was filled with the potential adventure I didn’t have time for.
A person can go to Jockey’s Ridge everyday of the week for years and never experience it the same way. My experience was that of a wanderer. Turing left for ten minutes and then right for thirty, zigzagging up one dune and down to the valley of the other side. A windmill marked the
entrance of my journey, like an enormous flag without marring the ocean view. The sand dunes change, constantly blowing over and being built up by the wind current coming off the Atlantic Ocean, although that in and of it’s self makes the exploration of the sand dunes an exceptional
joy. 420 acres of sand may never be walked over.


I spotted a couple who were dog walking, there was no leash and in the space of allotted, no peace the barking dogs could bother. A family with five kids use a sand dune closer to the entrance as a water slide. All members lined up to watch one another slide down wetted beach sand into the shallow lakes bellow, cheering at the splash and no doubt enjoying nature’s toy and the lack of lines that come with the territory of a manmade water slide. It’s a very safe, kid friendly adventure. The lakes barely reach up to the shoulders of a nine-year-old boy lying down.
And the vantage point of being on a sand dune rather than flat beach is the ability to see the actions of little kids from whatever direction they are headed easily.


I was able to observe their adventure and wade in the water as well; up to my ankles without the fear of a currant taking me by surprise or kids tossing water up and splashing me by accident. I’m also not in the way of young and old hang gliders, coming back from a lesson two or three
dunes outside of my exploration area. Free permits to hang glide are available through the park office for those who have a valid USHGA rating, but for those interested in flight but do not wish to their feet to leave the ground, the sand dunes are an ideal spot to fly kites.

OBX Brewtag Festival

Laura Dunbar (2017)

The Outer Banks is a popular destination in the North Carolinian summer months, and a common misconception holds that there isn’t much to do come the off season. Though there are many less tourists and the Atlantic isn’t exactly swimmable, there isn’t a lack in activities. Among these autumn activities is the OBX Brewtag Festival, which took place on October 28th this year. 

 

The Brewtag festival is modeled after Red Bull’s annual Flutag festival, which occurs in multiple cities around the world. Flutag is German for “flying day,” and the event features competitors attempting to fly home-made, human powered flying machines. Brewtag takes its own twist on this concept. Instead of flying machines, teams are challenged with the task of building a contraption to fly a one sixth keg barrel. 

 

Participating teams, made up of four or more people hailing from all different states, worked for weeks on their keg-flying machines. Most resembled planes, with two wings coming out of the keg, while others had a totally different design, such as one board atop the keg. The teams all had quirky names and wore costumes to go along with it. Their excitement was palpable as they climbed the flight deck and launched the kegs into the air.

 

Though the concept seemed a bit bizarre to me, I was surprised to find myself getting caught up in the excitement of the crowd as the kegs went flying. Before launching, team members danced around, riling the crowd up, and by the time the keg was launched the crowd was going wild. Some kegs soared; others went crashing, face first into the ground. No matter the outcome, I found myself cheering, awe-ing, or laughing with the crowd, becoming a part of the exciting atmosphere.

 

The keg flying competition, though the main attraction, wasn’t all the Brewtag Festival had to offer. The festival was from 1:00-5:30, so there were a lot more activities to occupy our time. We ate from two food trucks catering the event from local restaurants, which had something for everybody— from tuna tartar in an ice cream cone to beef tacos and cheeseburgers.There were two bands performing live during the event as well, and after the keg competition we sat on the ground in front of the stage and listened to the music with other festival-goers. The first band seemed to be more of background noise to everything else, but the second band— a reggae style— had everyone dancing along. Though the event was centered around beer, it was very kid-friendly, and families seemed to be the most common of the attendees. There were many children’s activities, including a rock climbing wall, face painting, a mechanical shark, a bounce house, and an arts and crafts station. There were also many local vendors selling souvenirs and apparel, including funny graphic t-shirts that went along with the event, like a bear hugging a mug of beer saying “Beer Hug.” Because it was halloween weekend, many people were wearing costumes, which were judged in a costume contest at the end of the festival along with the awards ceremony for the keg competition, though we weren’t there to see the results. 

 

The Brewtag also had a record number of 25 breweries in attendance, housed at their own tables under a large white tent. At the entrance to the festival you were able to purchase a punch card for 20 dollars each, good for either four beers or 12 beer tastings. The breweries had IPAs, blonde brews, ciders, etc. There was something for everyone, and there were large crowds underneath the tent for the entirety of the festival.

 

It was the third annual OBX Brewtag, and after talking to other festival-goers, it seemed that it was the best, despite a disagreement about whether the competition was cancelled the year before due to a hurricane. Some argued that it was, but others claimed that was a different weekend, and that the show did in fact go on. This year, though, the weather was warm, the music was great, and the entertainment was definitely unique. All in all, the OBX Brewtag was a great time and I would definitely recommend it to anyone heading to the Outer Banks during the off-season!

Beach Nourishment on Nags Head 

Sydney Sirkin (2020) 

The Outer Banks have been a hot vacation destination spot for over fifty years, fully outfitted with the beach, the sun, and cool ocean air. The flock of tourists have only increased, leaving great stress on the beaches and sand dune structures that prevent the tides from completely flooding the island. 

 

In Nags Head, an island on the Outer Banks, the sand dunes have served an essential role. Despite their ability to separate land and sea, the “ocean and erosion have claimed property along the oceanfront,” says Nags Head Director of Planning and Development, Michael Zehner. Zehner also notes that the “dune system is not natural; it was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s”. 

 

Under FDR’s New Deal, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was formed in 1933 within the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The CCC provided work relief to unemployed men in jobs within conservation and natural resources in land owned by the government, such as the National and State Parks. Jobs under the CCC included structural improvements, erosion control, flood control, forest protection, landscaping and wildlife management. The program concluded in 1942 after Congress ceased funding, but lives on in other organizations such as the Student Conservation Association, Conservation Corps in several states and the Sea Ranger Service. 

 

On the Outer Banks, dune creation was prioritized to allow for economic growth along the coast. Over 3,000,000 feet of sand was constructed to form barrier dunes along the coast, and was stabilized by 2,500,000 trees and plants, according to Robert Dolan’s Dune Stabilization Study. The effort was widely received by the community, and many houses, buildings and businesses were built directly behind the dunes. However, the dune has slowly eroded over the years, and has left these buildings exposed to the elements. 

Such deterioration has not stopped the influx of tourists, and the island is working hard to keep up both economic growth and environmental integrity. Through beach nourishment programs, Zehner says “beach nourishment is accepted as a treatment that is not detrimental environmentally, and is worthwhile due to the protection benefits that it provides to private property and public infrastructure, and the obvious economic benefits.” 

Beach nourishment, according to the Nags Head website, protects “our beachfront’s accessibility, natural beauty and ecological vitality, as well as our community’s economic viability.” Due to the upkeep required of sand dunes, the nourishment program allows government money to support both the beach and the current way of life on the island, which includes year round residents and visitors. While the program does positively serve the environment, it is another band aid fix as we await a natural disaster that will require us to create a new plan to hold the island together. 

Until then, Nags Head’s program remains the largest funded beach nourishment project in the country, and continues to work to preserve the beautiful landscape of North Carolina beaches.