Good Neighbors Make Good Fences

building fences

With all due respect to Robert Frost, good neighbors DID make good fences this weekend.  Sand fences, that is.  For years, one strategy for building better dunes on barrier islands during an accretion cycle is the addition of sand fences.  According to Orrin Pilkey, in How to Read a North Carolina Beach,

the fences reduce wind velocities and cause sand to drop and accumulate in their shadows.

When decaying marsh grass serves this function in the wrack line or are caught in fences on the beach, the sand builds up and the decaying grasses nourish the dune plants which take root, further stabilizing the beach.  Barrier islands can only get permission to install sand fences in areas of the beach that are currently accreting sand, which for us is north of Osprey Walk.

plants stabilize the dunes
pieces of sand fence collected with other garbage at a beach sweep

The only problem we have had with those sand fences is that years later, when we are in an erosion cycle again, the metal wires that connect the stakes of the fence have deteriorated. Rusty pieces litter the beaches and are rather uncomfortable and dangerous to step on.  For years, members of the island’s Environmental Board researched sand fences made of compostable material– could they be made from corn starch, or hemp, or something else designed to deteriorate or totally biodegrade within a few years? After years of searching, we determined that there wasn’t a commercial product available that met our needs.  So island Ecologist, Lori, worked with the EPB, and Gray McGraw, and David Smith to create a sand fence-building workshop that island residents and families could stop by and participate in.

everyone helped

It was great fun… we had to drag our kids away from the action because they had such fun building the fences.  Kudos to all who set this up for creating a fun family activity as well as a safer, better option for dune stabilization.  And thanks to Van Kinnett for the use of the drill press!

Click here for a one minute video about building the fences: start to finish.


What happens when old sand fences erode

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Leslie Sautter

    I agree, Judy! As long as there is dry sand blowing around, might as well try to capture it at the base of a fence. If you can sprig it with dune grass, all the better. Dewees has had GREAT success with dune fences in the past, and I still believe that the island is re-entering another phase of accretion after the multi-year erosional cycle.

  2. Melinda Nutter


    The family walked to Huyler House today to see the sand fences and they have all been built. It was a neighbor building experience. Thanks for the pictures and article. I cannot wait to come back to Dewees and watch them work on the beach.


  3. reggiefairchild

    It was great to have a community project to work on with neighbors. Our son Ted LOVED working with Bill E., Cozy M., Paul C., Melinda N., David S. and on and on. It was a great way from them all to get to know each other better. Great idea!

  4. Loggerhead Bro

    Of course thanks to Dewees Islanders for building eco-friendly, biodegradable sand fencing [may be the first of its kind] BUT I send a BIG THANK YOU to Judy & Reggie who capture the fun we have with our environmental programs !

  5. toone lapham

    great story on building fences. I loved the video.

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