A Week on North Carolina's Crystal Coast

Living on the Dunes

They're found off the coast of Virginia and North Carolina, low sandy islands easily affected by wind and storms, tides and currents. Barrier islands protect the mainland. Fragile, the sand dunes shift and change, altered by the forces of nature. People first came here to harvest the sea. Today they seek to live where sea and sand make a beautiful interface. And have learned that people must live in harmony with the fragile islands of sand lest they change in unwelcome manner, and vanish.

Plants hold the sand in place more securely than sea walls and snow fencing.
Walk over the dune, kill the vegetation along the foot path, and the wind will blow through
and cut an opening that exposes the backdune to damaging winds and water.

Today, visitors are warned to keep off the dunes.

A public access boardwalk in Salter Path allows safe access across the dunes to the beach.

Salter Path has a fascinating history. In the late 1800s and early 1900s families moved to the area of Bogue Banks that would later become known as Salter Path. They established their homes, without any deeds, before Bostonian John A. Royal purchased Salter Path, and subsequently Salter Path became known as a squatters community. John A. Royal sold the property to Alice Green Hoffman, daughter of Alfred Green, a former governor of New Jersey and a distant relative of Theodore Roosevelt. She developed an estate in present day Pine Knoll Shores and in 1923 sued the residents of Salter Path because their cows were wandering onto her estate. A court decision allowed the residents of Salter Path to remain, restricting them to 81 acres that the squatters occupied. Only current residents and their descendents could occupy the property, however individuals had no title to the land. Direct ownership of the beachfront was granted to the villagers for their collective use. And their cows were not allowed to graze on the Hoffman Estate. This ruling remained intact until 1979 when a legal settlement permitted Salter Path residents to hold a title to their property and allowed Carteret County to levy taxes on the former squatters village.

Today their weathered gray cottages are vanishing, replaced by condominiums.
Supposedly, they will withstand 120 mph winds . . .

Reminiscent of bonsai, the constantly blowing wind shapes these small trees.

Older houses, and many contemporary ones also, are raised up on stilts,
allowing storm surges to flush through without damage to the structure or its contents.

Mobile homes are common along the Crystal Coast. As elsewhere, a view of the sea is prized.
Where it cannot be seen from a window, viewing platforms are built, as here, at a trailer park.

Here is a truly elegant viewing platform, with a bridge from house to structure.

And this viewing platform rather overwhelms the ranch-style house it looms above.

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