Today, the majestic mass of sand is only a pancake of itself. It now has an elevation of no more than half its old self and resembles a pancake for lack of a better term. I saw it for the first time in many years as I arrived for a short visit this past April. Driving in from the west across the Baum Bridge, I took the Whalebone turn north on the beach and soon started seeking a peak at the grand dune. While it's true that one reason for not being able to see it was the heavy and high development to the west of the road, that wasn't the entire reason. Even then when I found a gap, Jockey's Ridge really couldn't be seen until I was nearly on top of it from the road. Later, I realized the same was true from the north and I thought back to the days when we could sit on our back porch and see the massive peak to the southwest. No longer is it the preeminent landscape point for getting your location bearings, it was just a big pile of sand by the road.
What made me think of it now was an article I was reading about the evolution of Jockey's Ridge. A candidate for a Master of Science in Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Katie Weaver, conducted a detailed study of charts, maps and drawings going back to the mid-1800's and has determined that as part of natural cycles of weather, the dune doubled in elevation between the end of World War I and the 1950's but now is on the other side of the cycle. Her work was overseen by Doctor Helena Mitasova, her professor at North Carolina State University. Now I can't say anything about the reasoning and the maps that were used, but my own empirical knowledge gained as a son of an Outer Banker with deep roots back during that time frame never indicated such a massive shift. Oh, I know that dunes shift, after all sand does blow with the wind, but with all of the discussions with my relatives (I was a very inquisitive lad) I feel certain I would have known about that. After all, generations of Outer Banker children have walked those dunes and imagined being s world class mountain climber since imagination began. Neither my grandmother or my aunts and uncles ever talked about any such major change that they knew of and the knowledge base goes back to the 1840's.
In all fairness, there are some good things in the study that talk about how to maintain the sand once it is in place, sometimes shifting it manually to keep it from moving out farther. It also credits Carolista Baum for her heroic one person blocking of a bulldozer in 1973 which started the movement to create Jockey's Ridge State Park, but yet we see the park can only try and maintain what is inside its dimensions. Sand, that moving resource, is not limited by boundaries and, what's more, it needs to be free to move to and fro to do its natural work. And therein lies the big problem which no one wants to face. The massive overbuilding which blocks wind and water flow and covers so much of the sand with homes, businesses and roadways literally stops huge volumes of sand from flow in and out. That factor is the one that no one wants to address for it defies the wishes of those who want to cover every square inch of it with more development. Just call me always somewhat skeptical of studies and analyses that require public funds to accomplish, for with the acceptance of public funds we become agents for the provider of those funds, the government, and what they want has to be somehow justified in the result. That today, my friend, is massive development to increase the public coffers with fees and more. I've never seen a politician who failed to put that first and I don't think I ever will.
No one has to agree with what I say. Take it whichever you want but do ponder the issue. Change can be very good but it isn't always something that amounts to progress. Sometimes it can be a major setback to quality of life, something we all hope to have. I just can't help but think the degradation of what was an illustrious and unique symbol of the Outer Banks is a tragedy.