In the early 1970s developers threatened the future of Jockey’s Ridge — until one woman came up with a plan.
Jockey’s Ridge is the largest living sand dune on the East Coast, and according to the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, it’s by far one of the most popular local attractions with well over one million visitors each year.
But although it can be easy to take the majestic ridge for granted today, there was a time when its future wasn’t so certain. By the early 1970s property development was beginning to boom on the Outer Banks, and some had set their sights on the areas surrounding Jockey’s Ridge.
Nearly every account of the first movement to turn the ridge into a state park invokes the image of Carolista Fletcher Baum on the day she stood in front of a bulldozer at the foot of dunes and refused to budge until the workers eventually gave up.
In truth, there had been earlier efforts to make Jockey’s Ridge public property (unbeknownst to many, the dunes were privately owned until 1975). When local historian David Stick was elected president of the Nags Head Chamber of Commerce in 1964 he lobbied diligently for that change, but at the time it mostly fell on deaf ears.
By all accounts however, Baum was a force to be reckoned with. A well-known local jewelry maker who spent the winter with her family in Chapel Hill, Baum immediately began to devote almost all her time and energy toward protecting Jockey’s Ridge.
She not only stirred up local support any way she could, but also wrote thousands of letters to legislators, circled petitions and created a nonprofit called the People to Preserve Jockey’s Ridge. Uniting under the slogan “S.O.S.” (Save Our Sand Dunes), the group created posters and sold everything from T-shirts and bumper stickers to kites designed by the legendary Francis Rogallo — plus the opportunity to “own” an honorary square foot of the ridge with a $5 donation.
These efforts even captured the attention of famed poet Carl Sandburg. “Save the dunes,” he wrote. “They belong to the people. They represent the signature of time and eternity. Their loss would be irrevocable.”
The sheer size of this groundswell was undeniable, and in 1975 — only two years after this campaign got underway — the North Carolina General Assembly raised the funds to purchase the first 152 acres and create Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Additional purchases were made over the years, and today the park covers more than 400 acres.
Though the People to Preserve Jockey’s Ridge was officially disbanded in the late 1970s, a nonprofit group called the Friends of Jockey’s Ridge was established in 1990 to help “support, enhance and promote” the park, which they continue to do to this day.
As part of the National Park Service’s centennial celebrations, and in conjunction with the Friends of Jockey’s Ridge, a celebratory Save Our Sand Dunes Heritage Day will be held at the park on August 30 to honor Carolista Baum’s birthday and the untold number of people who have worked so tirelessly over the years to preserve the dunes for future generations.