The morning of Friday, June 18, 2021 was a picture-perfect, almost-summer day at the Crystal Coast, featuring a clear sky, moderate temperatures, low humidity, and a light breeze off the ocean. This lovely morning set the stage for a nature walk on the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Trail at the NC Aquarium – Pine Knoll Shores, sponsored by UCF’s Green Sanctuary and Adult RE Committees. The 17 hikers included both UCF members and visiting family members. The easy out-and-back hike is 1.2 miles each way, so we had lots of time during our two hours on the trail to stop to observe plants and wildlife, and to take in expansive views of Bogue Sound at the turn-around point. The trail itself runs through mature maritime forest along the spine of a relict dune bordered by tidal creeks. It is surrounded by the largest patch of intact vegetation on Bogue Banks.
After a brief sign-in and safety discussion, leader and UCF Member Tom Wentworth discussed the origins of North Carolina’s barrier islands during the last glacial advance and retreat. These unique and ever-changing islands have been driven by massive changes in sea level during this 30,000-year period, shaped and reshaped by oceanic currents and periodic catastrophic storms. At the start of the hike, Tom pointed out the useful Yaupon shrub, a caffeine-containing holly used for millennia by native peoples and now gaining popularity again as a tea; in more potent brews, Yaupon was used long ago for ceremonial purposes and as a wartime stimulant. We also discussed differences between the two dominant oaks of the Maritime Forest, the Laurel Oak and Live Oak. Later, we identified the Red Bay tree, a relative of the Laurel Bay used in cooking.
The trail is well-sheltered from the effects of wind and wind-borne salt aerosol, so we also saw numerous interesting herbaceous plants in sunny spots along the ridge. At the halfway point of the hike, we had fine views of additional natural communities, including Salt Shrub, Brackish Marsh, and Salt Marsh. A highlight of the Salt Shrub natural community was the Sea Ox-Eye, a succulent-leaved shrub with yellow, daisy-like flowers. A flock of juvenile White Ibis entertained us as they foraged on the mudflats in the tidal creeks. This was a great opportunity for UCF members, friends, and family to gather after a year of pandemic constraints. As well as learning about the native plants in the area, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery, listening to the birds, and catching up with each other.