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Beach Nourishment on Nags Head

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.


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