It’s hard to imagine, especially during summer months when thousands of people turn our beach towns into cities, that the Outer Banks is much more than a strip of sandy beaches, great restaurants and endless vacation homes. For your enjoyment, here are five interesting facts to educate you on our area, creating fun trivia topics while travelling.
1. The Outer Banks is a giant sandbar.
The Outer Banks rose from the sea between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago. Composed of sand and sediment resting on the seabed and not truly attached to anything, they migrate south and west since formation.
The westward migration is largely caused by ocean overwash and the force of the waves, although there has been some mitigation through the use of dune stabilization projects, beach nourishment and other techniques. The southward migration is wind and current driven, and continues today.
2. Inlets are formed by water pushing out from the sound.
They’re called inlets, but actually they are outlets. Inlets form when the force of the water in the sound pushes through the shoreline to the ocean. It is almost unheard of for the ocean to breach the shoreline and form a navigable opening. Overwash, yes, but certainly not semi-permanent or navigable.
Hurricane Irene, with its severe soundside flooding, was an excellent example of this process. Opening two channels to the Atlantic Ocean, the high water mark on the dunes could be clearly seen on the soundside and was higher than the ocean storm surge. The breaches were located at Mirlo Beach, located on the north end of Rodanthe, four miles north of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.
3. The line of sand dunes on the beach are manmade.
During the Great Depression, the Federal Government created a work program called the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Its sole purpose was to put young unemployed and unmarried men to work. The primary work of the Corps was conservation of the natural environment. For example, the CCC built many of the hiking trails still in use in national parks.
One of their tasks was to create a dune line running the entire length of the Outer Banks–which was probably the first attempt to stabilize the beach. It has been helpful in preventing some flooding and overwash, but there is little evidence that it has slowed the retreat of the shoreline.
4. We are home to the oldest cultivated grapevine in the New World.
The Mother Vine on Mother Vineyard Road on Roanoke Island is a massive grape vine covering about a quarter acre. The grape growing on it is a Scuppernong, one of over 200 kinds of Muscadine grape.
When the Lost Colony was first established, records were sent back to England that detailed the location of a grape vine at the same location of the Mother Vine. Sales of the property and transfer forms specifically describe the vine as early as the mid 18th century. It remains unclear whether the English Colonists or native Croatan Indians planted the vine.
5. Blackbeard did not kill his prisoners.
With lit fuses set in his scraggly beard, multiple pistols jammed into his belt and vest, and an imposing size (supposedly 6’2”), Blackbeard must have looked like the Devil incarnate. But if anyone died in his presence, they would have died from fear, not at the hands of Edward Teach.
There is no recorded instance of Blackbeard harming his victims–and that is consistent with how 18th century pirates operated. Pirates were interested in the ship and its contents. If the crew on the attacked vessel thought they were going to die, they would fight much harder, which may have resulted in the ship being damaged or sinking.