• Harvey Thorleifson, Chair
    Minnesota Geological Survey
  • Carrie Jennings, Vice Chair
    Minnesota Geological Survey
  • David Bush, Technical Program Chair
    University of West Georgia
  • Jim Miller, Field Trip Chair
    University of Minnesota Duluth
  • Curtis M. Hudak, Sponsorship Chair
    Foth Infrastructure & Environment, LLC


Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 10:00 AM


AMES, Dorothea V., RIGGS, Stanley R., MALLINSON, David J. and CULVER, Stephen J., Department of Geological Sciences, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858,

The fundamental purpose of the National Parks system is ”to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein” (National Park Service Organic Act of 1916). Thus, resolution of conflicts between economic development and the purpose of National Parks in all states has always been a challenge. In North Carolina two-thirds of the Outer Banks barrier islands, from Virginia to Beaufort Inlet, are Federal Lands. These include Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout National Seashores and Currituck and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuges. Beginning In the 1930s, most of the low and narrow, simple barrier island segments were designated as federal seashores and refuges, whereas most of the wider, complex island segments remained in the private domain and are now urbanized. A right-of-way for a road was set aside on the Federal Lands, thus creating the expectation of maintaining a coastal highway that connects the villages. A booming tourist industry has developed that increasingly relies on this existing coastal highway. However, narrow island segments are very dynamic and extremely vulnerable to storms and sea-level change. Many road segments have been relocated westward several times and are now immediately adjacent to the estuary. In an effort to protect, rebuild, and relocate the numerous “going-to-sea” highway segments, the islands have become highly engineered systems dominated by constructed dune-ridges, sand-bag walls, and beach nourishment. This has obstructed natural processes of inlet formation and overwash, required for the short-term maintenance and long-term evolution of the barrier system. Thus, establishment of road right-of-ways on these dynamic barrier islands has created an untenable situation, a conflict that was not obvious to early planners. Today, given the reality of sea-level rise and its effects on NC’s barrier islands, other methods of meeting transportation needs must be considered, such as back-barrier causeways and more numerous and more technologically advanced ferry systems. However, even as environmental change is a constant along the coast, the desire to maintain the status quo is also a constant. Thus we have the “perfect conflict”.
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