North Carolina

Massive Outer Banks sand dunes creep toward homes. Can they be stopped?

In this file photo, a tourist from New York takes flight on the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, with guidance from his instructor from Kitty Hawk Kites’ flight school.
In this file photo, a tourist from New York takes flight on the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, with guidance from his instructor from Kitty Hawk Kites’ flight school. News & Observer file

Massive sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, on the North Carolina Outer Banks, keep shifting south toward homes, and now the state plans to move much of the sand back to the north, according to Coast Review Online.

The park near Nags Head, North Carolina has become a popular tourist destination, with sand dunes 80 to 100 feet tall, the state Division of Parks and Recreation explains. “Jockey’s Ridge is the tallest living natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States,” according to the state.

But the dunes keep moving south, so this week the state began moving 140,000 cubic yards, about 3.8 million cubic feet, of sand to the north end of the dunes, The Outer Banks Voice reports.

“Prevailing winds from the northeast in the winter push the dune tops to the southwest. Southwest winds in the summer do the opposite, but the movement has not balanced out,” The Voice explains.

The project to move the sand back to the north will take about 120 days and costs about $1 million, Coast Review reports.

The dunes’ movement is natural, according to research from North Carolina State University. “The dunes are essentially flattening as winds move the sand to the south,” NC State professor Helena Mitasova said in a short description of her research from the time.

The researchers found “the dunes are shifting to the south by 3 to 6 meters a year.”

This is not the first time the park has had to move sand from the dunes that threatened nearby homes, the researchers explain.

According to NC State, “The state scooped out part of the southern edge of Jockey’s Ridge in 2003 because it was poised to bury nearby homes, and crews deposited the sand to the north of the main dune. Mitasova says that strategy seems to be replenishing the dunes without interfering with the area’s evolutionary cycle.”

“It’s a question of, do we preserve the feature or the process,” Mitasova said in the research summary, referring to whether to move the sand back to the north end of the site or allow the sand to move naturally.

VIDEO: Experience the untamed environment along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Climb a lighthouse, charter a deep sea fishing trip, or just relax on unspoiled beaches.

A tractor-trailer got stuck in the sand at Corolla Beach in the Outer Banks, causing traffic and calamity on the beach.

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.
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