Beside a vernal pond in Jockey's Ridge State Park.

The Outer Banks is filled with symbols of life by the sea, almost all of them constructed by people who live and work here. But there is one icon of the Outer Banks that has remained undisturbed for hundreds of years and from the latest reports, more and more people are discovering its beauty.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head is, according the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, the most visited park in the state’s system. According to information recently released by the state, Jockey’s Ridge had 1,560,254 visitors last year, a 19% increase over 2016.

Although best known as the location of the largest sand dune on the Eastern Seaboard, the park is a small but remarkably diverse ecosystem. 

Jockey’s Ridge, scientifically known as a medaño—a shifting crescent-shaped sand dune—varies in height from 75’-100’ depending on wind conditions. It is the perfect place to learn how to hang glide and for many people that is their introduction to the park.

But within park boundaries there is also a small but dense maritime forest, and a remarkably complex aquifer that creates vernal pools during periods of heavier rain. 

A vernal pool is created when the pressure of an underground pool forces water to the surface. This past summer, which was wetter than normal, so some of the most extensive vernal pools recorded at the park

During those periods of time in the summer when vernal pools are deepest, the spade foot frog, unique to that environment emerges. The frogs, certainly very different than anything else, are just one of an extraordinary range of wildlife that call Jockey’s Ridge their home.

Although it is very rare to see them, red and grey fox, raccoons and coyotes are found throughout the park.