Jockey’s Ridge in Outer Banks draws record crowds amid coronavirus

A record number of people visited Jockeys Ridge in June.

A record number of people — more than 310,000 in all — visited Jockey’s Ridge State Park last month to climb the largest natural sand dune on the East Coast.

During Memorial Day weekend alone, 39,000 climbed the dune — another record.

Park Superintendent Joy Greenwood said people are looking to escape the indoors after months of quarantine, and that the park gives them room to safely spread out.

“It’s been insane,” she said. “They can find their own little space on the dune.”

Park statistics show 310,144 came to the park in June, with about 14,000 coming out some days. The last record was set in July 2019, with 301,325. Last year, the park drew a record 1.7 million visitors. It was the most visited state park in North Carolina. Even with the highs this months soaring into the 90s and the sand getting searing hot, the crowds keep coming out, Greenwood said.

“July numbers are also looking big,” she said.

Rangers take coolers of water and paper cups up the hill periodically and offer people a cool drink. Several have suffered symptoms of heat exhaustion and received aid, she said.

While Jockey’s Ridge is one of the biggest attractions on the Outer Banks, Greenwood said this year’s numbers are still surprising. They come to take hang gliding lessons, slide down the steep slopes on snowboards and fly kites from its peak of about 90 feet. Crowds show up at the end of the day to sit atop the dune, munch snacks and watch sunsets over the Albemarle Sound.

Allen and Melissa Laws and their children were descending the hill Wednesday morning after flying a kite in the stiff southern breeze. For the first time, they were able to send the kite up high enough to reach the end of their string. The family from western North Carolina vacations on the Outer Banks every two years. Monday, they climbed the hill to watch the sunset.

“It was the most people I’ve ever seen before,” said Melissa Laws.

“Everybody needs to see the sunset from Jockey’s Ridge,” added her husband.

The park of 426 acres was formed along U.S. 158 in 1975, but the shifting dunes have been there for thousands of years. Ships have long used the tall white hill, visible for miles offshore, as a landmark while passing by the Outer Banks.

Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, jeff.hampton@pilotonline.com

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