Rangers and maintenance staff from the National Park Service (NPS) recently embarked on a project to remove the scattered asphalt that has appeared along the Old Lighthouse Beach in Buxton. Photos that were posted on Facebook showed before and after shots of the shoreline, with large chunks of piled asphalt removed from the final landscape.
The asphalt comes and goes on this beach, which was the original locale of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse until it was moved to a safer inland spot in 1999.
Buried just beneath the sand, strong northeast winds, (like the ones that dominated the month of March), will uncover large chunks on occasion, which in turn leads to the clean-up efforts.
Mark Dowdle, Deputy Superintendent for the NPS Outer Banks Group, says that while the precise origins of the asphalt aren’t clear, it is believed that they were part of an emergency berm that was hastily established a long time ago.
“My understanding is that it was placed in front of the lighthouse as emergency stabilization after a severe nor’easter several decades ago,” he says. “My guess is that [the asphalt] was just what was available at the time, and they utilized that in the emergency that they had.”
It makes sense that stacked pieces of asphalt would be used for a temporary berm, considering that at around the same time, the highway in between Avon and Buxton was likely being moved closer to the western side of the island. And in the years before the big Lighthouse move, a number of materials were utilized to try to protect the historic landmark from encroaching erosion – including rocks, sandbags, and even old portions of the Highway.
“I think a lot of people have wondered what it is, and wondered if it has washed up from the ocean, but it was just buried under the sand,” says Dowdle. “It has been there a while, for sure. Over time, it has gotten spread out, and various storms uncover some of it. And when it gets uncovered, we want to go out and clean it up.”
Though the visible asphalt chunks have been removed from the shoreline for now, expect more to appear in the years to come as nor’easters continue to uncover items that are just beneath the surface.
“We expect that there is more asphalt in that area, and when it gets uncovered, we will clean it up as well.”