I recently visited the new Elliott Coues Nature Trail at Fort Macon State Park in Atlantic Beach, NC. Located to the west of Fort Macon and the US Coast Guard Station, a portion of the trail winds over sound side marshes and through old growth maritime forests of stunted live oaks and red cedars.
The trail is named for Dr. Elliott Coues (September 9, 1842 – December 25, 1899), an American army surgeon, historian, author, naturalist, ornithologist, anatomist, taxonomist, and occultist who was stationed at Fort Macon in 1869. He was the author of the seminal Key to North American Birds in 1872 and the editor of Journals of Lewis and Clark in 1893. When he died in 1899 the journal Birds and All Nature published:
Trees, particularly mature trees, are of special interest on NC's barrier islands. Early ideas about the nature of the maritime fringe focused on an idyllic but inaccurate history of the environment as a stable landform covered with healthy, old growth trees. Scientists, politicians, and conservationists in the early 20th century believed that it was only due to the destructive acts of early human inhabitants that we have the sandy, shrubby, and unstable landscape we know today. With the blame placed on shortsighted logging practices and the uncontrolled grazing of livestock, administrators believed that through scientific management, conservation, and dune building the coastal landscape would return to an imagined reforested state. To this day, the project to stabilize the shifting sands is still underway. Current research paints a more dynamic picture of maritime ecology:
Many of the policies that still shape the Outer Banks began with the trees. It was from this desire to reconfigure, reforest, and return to an imagined state that the massive worldbuilding project on NC's coast commenced. In his excellent thesis, Gabriel Francis Lee summarizes the results: