August 24, 2011
Located on the US 158 Bypass, milepost 12.5, Jockey’s Ridge is a fantastic park to explore with many different activities for the entire family. If you are looking for fun then this is the place to be while on the Outer Banks! You can experience the perfect wind conditions at the top of the dune for hang gliding, and flying a kite (the views are like no other!) You can also hike the self-guided trails that take you over the dunes then out to the sound, view the museum, sand-board throughout the offseason, enjoy water sports on the sound side, or even just relax in the picnic area if you desire.
If you prefer not walking on the sand there is a 360-foot boardwalk located near the parking lot with a gorgeous scene. Oh, and the little kids can not get enough of this humongous dune! Being the local that I am, I have had the chance to witness tons of younger ones use their imaginations to extreme magnitude (they are just so creative!) A plus to Jockey’s Ridge is that all admission is completely free along with most programs, and that the state park is open year-round to the public. One of the most favored programs offered is the Sunset on the Ridge. You are able to catch one of the most breathtaking sunsets on the Outer Banks, and it is held almost every night during the summer. I think I am actually going to catch one next week if you would like to join! Other popular programs include the Seine the Sound, Sunset on the Ridge, Blackbeard’s Treasure hunt, Crabby Clinic, Sea Shell Show & Tell, and Track in the Sand. Okay, so now that you know there is an unlimited amount of things to do on the Outer Banks most astonishing dune let’s talk about the three explicit ecological environments that Jockey’s Ridge embraces: Dunes, Maritime thicket, and the Roanoke Sound Estuary. To start, the dune itself is the tallest active sand dune system in the Eastern United States.
A neat fact about the dune is that the base of the dune has a variety of small grasses and plants covering the area forming a 40-foot root system. This caught me off guard, because if you consider the extremely harsh conditions you’d imagine that no plants nor animals can call the dune home. But this small grass provides a habitat for little animals, and insects. Sometimes the area handles some serious rain causing temporary pools to form around the base. The dune also changes consistently due to shifting winds reshaping them which is why the dune is often referred to as “The Living Dune.” Creepy yet striking. Are you wondering why they have not blown away yet? Well, with our very common Northeast/Southwest winds the dunes are kept together for they blow the sand back and forth.
The Maritime Thicket grows here because the large dune protects the growth of the live oaks, persimmons, red cedar, wax myrtle, bayberry, etc from the effects of wind and salt. Mostly medium size animals such as foxes and deer live in this growth. For the Roanoke Sound Estuary, there is bird, animal, and plant life living here. The sawgrass, cattails, and giant cordgrass serve as good habitats for waterfowl and fish nurseries. Well, there you have it, a short lesson on the Outer Banks largest dune. So that the next time you visit Jockey’s Ridge State Park, you will be carrying some knowledge along with you!