Nags Head Woods Preserve on North Carolina’s Outer Banks protects one of the largest remaining maritime forests on the East Coast. Defined as a woodland habitat affected by the ocean, maritime forests such as Nags Head Woods have become increasingly rare due to the pressures of human development throughout coastal environments.
Shielded from the ocean winds by the great sand dunes of Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the Preserve features an amazing diversity of plant and animal life. Towering oaks, hickories, and beech trees, some hundreds of years old, rise from the high ridges and create a canopy of trees more typical of the mountains of the eastern United States. There are seven plant community types in the Preserve and one of those, the maritime deciduous forest, is globally rare. In all, over 550 species of plants have been documented at Nags Head Woods ranging from tall trees to tiny orchids.
The Preserve hosts more than 150 species of birds, at least 50 of which nest there. Brightly colored prothonotary warblers, summer tanagers and blue grosbeaks make Nags Head Woods home in the summer months to raise their young then return to Central and South America for the winter. Not just for the birds, over 50 species of amphibians and reptiles have been documented as well. The freshwater ponds are inhabited by seven species of fish in addition to a great diversity of floating aquatic plant life, including the rare water violet. More than 20 mammal species have been documented in Nags Head Woods. Lucky visitors might catch a glimpse of river otter. The most recent addition to the mammal list at Nags Head Woods is the bobcat, uncommon along the Outer Banks.
History of the Preserve
Nags Head Woods was a thriving village community with homesites, churches, a school, a gristmill, and a shingle factory through the 1930s. A full history of the village can be accessed through an audio tour on the Roanoke Trail.
Nags Head Woods was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974, and protecting its unique habitats was one of TNC's first priorities in North Carolina. With the support of the community, area landowners, local municipalities and other partners, TNC has succeeded in the preservation of this very special ecosystem and shares it with visitors throughout the year.