Northampton Trail Hits Dead End, Cape Charles Dune Plan Sprouts Up


By Stefanie Jackson –

Cape Charles won’t receive a grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation to help fund the lower Northampton County bike and hike trail’s safe crossing over Route 13, at least not this year.

Clara Vaughn, of the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission, informed the Cape Charles town council Jan. 17 that VDOT recommended postponing the grant application process due to the “uncertainty” of the timeline to install a traffic light at the intersection at the Cape Charles Food Lion’s south entrance, where the trail would cross the highway.

VDOT encouraged Cape Charles to re-apply for the grant in the fall and split the project into two phases. The application deadline is Nov. 1.

In other action, Ann Hayward Walker, chair of the Cape Charles Wetlands and Coastal Dune Board, presented its research and opinion on the development of a beach and dune management plan.

It doesn’t appear that Cape Charles residents who live near the boardwalk will regain an unblocked view of the beach and its sunsets in the near future, according to Walker’s report.

One of the most popular suggestions among public comments the board solicited in 2016 and 2018 was to reduce the height of the dunes to no more than three feet above the boardwalk.

But after consideration of other beach plans, guidelines, and scientific studies, the board concluded it is “unable to justify the lowering of existing dunes to a specific height,” according to its report.

The dune board acknowledged Cape Charles’ comprehensive plan, which states, “The views of the beach and harbor are so integrated into the physical aesthetics of the town that their presence identifies Cape Charles as a special place.”

But it also considered that the dunes help protect the nearby historic district and homes from storm damage, an opinion shared by Town Manager Larry DiRe in a 2018 staff report.

The board recommended extending the dunes seaward by planting beach grass to trap sand on the beach and prevent the dunes from growing any taller.

An eventual goal is “to attain lower, wider dunes.”

Cape Charles’ beach and dune management plan was based closely on the one used in Norfolk, another locality with a beach on the Chesapeake Bay.

Norfolk’s beach and dune management strategies, including extending low dunes farther across its beach, were successful in retaining sand and preventing its migration – in other words, keeping sand on the beach and off the street.

Walker observed that the public uses Cape Charles beach near the water’s edge and the beach is wide enough to extend the dunes mid-way.

The board recommended planting American beach grass on the seaward side of the dunes  because of its tolerance to salty, windy conditions and Dewey Blue switchgrass on the landward side.

American beach grass costs about $70 per 1,000 plants. The best time to plant is January or February so the beach grass hits its peak growth by late June. It takes three to five years for American beach grass to reach maturity.

One plant that the dune board wants to see less on the beach is invasive Japanese sedge. Its roots secrete a toxin that kills American beach grass, and spikes can grow at the base of the plant, presenting a safety hazard.

The board recommends using poison to eliminate the Japanese sedge.

The dune board’s report noted that cleaning up sand from the boardwalk, sidewalk, or street is the responsibility of the town, not property owners, and sand cleared from these areas should be redeposited on the beach at its north end.

The beach should also be nourished with new sand every four to five years and after major storms, Walker said.

Councilman Andy Buchholz advocated for the plan’s implementation and recommended hiring additional staff rather than contracting the extra work.

Previous articleTarr to Seek Re-election To Accomack BOS
Next articleMr. Stewart Powell Womble