Nags Head has a long history as a resort destination. The town's first beach cottage was constructed in the 1830s, and more of the same quickly followed. In those days, Nags Head was a place for wealthy plantation owners to escape inland humidity over the summer months. Those who didn't own cottages would stay at the Nags Head Hotel, where visitors would gather nightly for dances and dinners. The hotel is no longer in existence, but legend claims it is merely hidden beneath Jockey's Ridge, the massive sand dunes that lie within Nags Head.
Jockey's Ridge is one of the best known landmarks in all of the Outer Banks. It has the distinction of being the tallest natural sand dune system on the East Coast. The dunes, protected by State Park status, are primarily used for hiking, exploring, hang-gliding and kite flying. Visitors can also swim and kayak along the coastline. Jockey's Ridge is considered a moving or living dune system, because the peaks and valleys are continually shifted and reshaped by the winds.
A far different natural habitat can be explored at the Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve. Covering more than 1,000 acres, the preserve features ancient pine and hardwood trees, ponds, wetlands and marshes. Jockey's Ridge runs along the edge of the preserve, so that the sands blow into the forests and marshes. Visitors to the preserve might encounter several species of birds, plus turtles, muskrats, egrets and a variety of plant life.
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