Carolina Environmental Diversity Explorations

The northern Outer Banks · By Dirk Frankenberg and Blair Tormey

Nags Head Woods: A Maritime Forest

Figure 1. A view from Nags Head Woods on the Outer Banks. (Photograph by Blair Tormey. More about the photograph)

In many cases, the natural processes on the Outer Banks evolve from predetermined conditions, as exemplified by the landscape of Nags Head Woods. Nags Head Woods is a mature maritime forest that is bounded on three sides by the large dune complex of Jockey’s Ridge and Pamlico Sound to the west. The protection provided by the surrounding large dune ridge has allowed a mature pine and grass forest to develop on an ancient landscape.

Geologist Stan Riggs at East Carolina University has proposed that the hill and dale topography seen at Nags Head Woods is actually inherited from what used to be a dune and swale setting more than 100,000 years ago. This is evidenced by a fairly well developed soil horizon that underlies the forest floor of Nags Head Woods. Indeed, when driving through the forest on West Ocean Acres Road, one can easily see the relict dune-swale topography suggested in the surrounding landscape. In many places the swales between the relict dunes are internally drained, and contain small freshwater ponds which are rich with aquatic species.


exemplify v.
To clarify by giving an example of.
maritime forest n.
A forested community affected by salt spray, usually located on the mainland side of a barrier beach or island. [more]
dune n.
A hill or ridge of wind-blown sand.
hill and dale n.
A landscape or topography that is characterized by high (hills) and low (valley or dale) areas.
topography n.
The surface features of a place or region; the character, natural features, and configuration of land; terrain.
swale n.
A linear hollow or depression found between dunes or beach ridges, and is generally marshy or swampy and heavily vegetated.
relict n.
A geological feature that is a remnant of a pre-existing formation after other parts have disappeared.