Beach Town in a Forest

Beach Town in a Forest
Beach Town in a Forest, Pine Knoll Shores located in Carteret County on North Carolina's Crysal Coast. Photo compliments of Bill Flexman and Dave Prutzman

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Storms That Took Our Sittum

AC Hall design for Ocean Park with
dune front deck, 1967
This first person account by Tom Tempel, who lives across the road from Ocean Park and the sittum, vividly recalls the stormy years of 1996 through 1999. It gives life to the hurricanes and northeasters, the efforts to repair damage and respond to nature’s pounding. Key to it all are the many people Tom introduces who worked to make the Ocean Park sittum the pleasant restful spot it is. The post originally appeared as an article in the June 2016 issue of The Shoreline.

Elaine and I moved to Pine Knoll Shores in June 1996, and a few days later Rachael and Robert Magnum one of our very nice neighbors on Mimosa Blvd. stopped in to welcome us. We were already enthralled with our new hometown with many nice people, town officials, many things to do and just a great atmosphere for recent retirees.
Rachael, a true Southern Lady, asked, “Have y’all been to the sittum?” “What’s a sittum?” we asked. She said it was the deck where you sit at the beach at the end of Mimosa. “You mean Ocean Park?” we asked. “Yes, we have been there and enjoy it.”
We hear the term “sittum” used frequently now, but only recently, while reading “Early Sittum History” by Walt Zaenker on the PKS History blog, did I learn when the term was first used. The locally coined term “sittum” first appears in the August 1975 issue of the Pine Knoll Shore Line in a story published by Betty Hammon and Mary Doll. Cres Yaeck’s son has credited Mary Doll and his mom as the first to use the term.
In June 1996, Frank Link was the Pine Knoll Association Ocean Park sittum chairman, and Charlie Kirshner was the PKA parks chairman. They worked well together to organize volunteers and maintain the park. Elaine and I found our selves at the Ocean Park sittum often to enjoy time with friends, family or just to walk our dog. Along with other new arrivals, I was recruited as a volunteer for sittum duty. Then it happened!
Three weeks after we moved to Pine Knoll Shores, Hurricane Bertha hit our area of the coast on July 12, 1996. We stayed put in our little rental home. A couple times when we could get outside, we walked to the sittum with some neighbors to view the surf and what all was happening—and then quickly returned home.
The storm seemed long and, at times, nerve-racking, but we came through it fine, and our little rental home had no leaks or damage. The beach was a different story, with severe sand erosion and extensive damage to decks, beach steps, and oceanfront homes along the entire stretch of Bogue Banks, including Pine Knoll Shores.
Oceanfront homes in Pine Knoll Towns following Hurricane Bertha.
I confirmed with Jay Barnes, author of North Carolina Hurricane History, that it was Bertha that took the oceanfront ends off of two of Pine Knoll Town Homes.  Severe erosion and moderate damage occurred at Ocean Park Sittum and steps to beach.
Contractor Scott McMillan gave priority to repairs, and contractor Robert Youngblood bulldozed sand back to the steps and sittum, where numerous volunteers repositioned it, using shovels under the steps and sittum. 
Bill Keefe (left) and Bob Murphy use shovels to reposition sand under the steps and sittum that was bulldozed following Hurricane Bonnie in 1998
The steps to the beach and the sittum were never totally out of use because of the quick work by contractors. This was a blessing because almost all oceanfront steps along the beach were washed away or severely damaged including the decks at Hammer and Memorial Park, which were closed for repair, causing occasional large crowds at Ocean Park until they re-opened a few weeks later.
Robert Youngblood and other contractors spent weeks on the enormous task of removing debris from Hurricane Bertha all along Bogue Banks—then it happened again.
On September 5-6, 1996, Hurricane Fran hit our area, causing significant repeat damage, which included erosion and damage to beach steps, decks and oceanfront homes. Fran compounded some of the damage and erosion caused by Bertha; however, there were areas along the beach with severe damage and other areas with much less damage. Ocean Park was more severely damaged by Fran than by Bertha. The pilings for the beach steps and ocean side of the sittum had severe sand erosion, and the steps and sittum were unusable.

Although Fran was considered a much stronger storm than Bertha, the direction it took as it hit the coast and moved inland may explain why the damage was more variable on the beach. Again, thanks to the priority the Scott McMillan Builders gave the project, work began almost immediately installing extensions on the pilings of the steps and ocean side of the sittum, which had been completely washed out. Robert Youngblood again pushed sand up to the structure, and volunteers shoveled it under the steps and sittum, which were quickly put back into use.
It should be noted that northeasters following Hurricane Fran also caused significant erosion and, sometimes, severe damage. Robert Youngblood was contracted for additional sand replenishments by bulldozing. Because of the heavy hit Pine Knoll Shores had taken from storm damage over a period of time, he offered to do the last one at no charge, for which PKS thanked him by letter in March 1997.
In June 1998, Frank Link, who had been an exceptional PKA Ocean Park chairman for many years stepped down. Charlie Kirchner asked me to be the new chairman, and I accepted. Frank would still be available as a volunteer and would help when building design work was needed. Frank designed the high-rise seats, which he also built in 1995 on the northeast corner of the original sittum.
Ocean Park Sittum, pre 1995
Photo compliments of the Yaeck family.
Charlie, Frank and the PKA Board had been concerned about the sittum surviving hurricanes and northeasters since 1995 because of its design and frequent repairs after storms. Frank was already thinking about design improvements should a new sittum be needed at Ocean Park.
Almost two years after Hurricane Fran, during August 26-28, 1998, Hurricane Bonnie hit our coast and caused significant erosion and some damage to Ocean Park steps and sittum. Again, McMillan Builders and Robert Youngblood were quick to respond. The steps and sittum were repaired and were never unusable, but the severe erosion around step and sittum pilings left it very vulnerable to collapse if further erosion occurred.
The erosion was severe all along Bogue Banks beaches. In addition, it was Bonnie that washed ashore thousands of auto tires that had been placed as offshore fishing reefs onto the beaches especially Atlantic Beach and PKS area. The tires had to be removed before Youngblood could push sand up to the dunes.
Thousands of tires, which had been placed offshore as fishing reefs, were washed ashore by Hurricane Bonnie in August 1998.
Bonnie was the final blow that set the stage for the eventual loss of Ocean Park steps and sittum, which would occur later in May 1999. The erosion on the beaches was so severe tree roots that had been covered by many feet of sand were exposed on the beach where folks currently set up their chairs and umbrellas near the water. On the beach at the east end of Pine Knoll Shores, not far from Hammer Park, sand erosion caused many cement gun mounts that were installed during WWII to be exposed at the mid-tide area.
Tree roots uncovered due to beach erosion - 1998
1942, United States Marine Corps 50 cal machine gun training installation, located on the dunes in the vacinity of what is now Pinewood Circle. Photo compliments of Sonny Cunningham

1998, Machine gun mounts exposed by storm erosion, showing the extent of dune face movement during 45 years.
There were areas in the dunes where erosion caused eight-foot-tall cuts in the dune, and many layers of different- colored sand were visible.
Hurricane Bonnie lasted for three days in our area and had a circuitous pathway on and off shore—it seemed to never end. This is one reason sand erosion was so severe. Following Hurricane Bonnie, Robert Youngblood was contracted to push sand after turtle nesting season ended in November. Pushing sand in November was hampered by northeasters that seemed to cause more erosion. Sand pushing was delayed until early 1999.
After a series of northeasters in the fall of 1998 and spring of 1999, a northeaster on May 15, 1999, caused severe erosion of sand around the Ocean Park steps and all sittum pilings, resulting in the sittum’s backward collapse, crashing down onto the dune. The collapse occurred because the sittum pilings in the dune on the north side, that could not be extended in the past, were completely washed out, while the south side with extended pilings stood high in the air.
After a series of storms in 1998 and 1999, the sand erosion proved too much for the Ocean Park sittum and applied backward onto the dune, Pictured is Elaine Tempel.
The area was condemned by the Pine Knoll Shores building inspector, resulting in its being unavailable for use. The same thing happened to many parks on the ocean side of Pine Knoll Shores. In June 1999, all debris from the Ocean Park steps and sittum was removed by Robert Youngblood. During May and June 1999, Charlie Kirchner, PKA parks chairman, and I, as Ocean Park chairman, worked with a group from PKA, representatives of the Coastal Resources Commission, tasked with enforcing CAMA (Coastal Area Management Act); contractors; Frank Link, designer; and Stroud Engineers to come up with viable alternatives to replace the sittum and steps and cement the walkway to the parking lot.
Dick Wray was President of PKA at the time, and the association had a very effective board of directors and PKA administrator, Robin Barnes. Two possible plans were developed. Plan A called for a sittum on the ocean side of the dunes as it was before, with steps to beach, and Plan B provided for the sittum to be set back 30 feet inland and on top of the dunes with a wooden walkway to a landing and beach steps. Plan B was selected by the board, put out for bids, and ultimately awarded to Scott McMillan Builders.
The new five-foot-wide steps from beach to landing with a flagpole on top of the dune, shower area and walkway to the sittum entrance were complete by early August 1999 by Scott McMillan Builders, with Craig Lewis serving as the carpentry foreman.  The construction included nine steps south down to a landing, seven steps east down to a landing and five steps west down to the beach. This design is important because in years to come a lot of the steps were covered up with sand, thanks to sand fences—a very positive development. The new sittum was finished by the third week of September. McMillan, Lewis and Youngblood lived in Pine Knoll Shores at the time (and still do today).

The new beach access steps just after completion in August 1999, consisted of three flights of steps, one leading south, the second east, and the third headinf west. 

Beach access steps 2016. The sand fencing built up the ground level so that only four steps on the east flight are exposed.
The remaining east steps and the west steps are in place under the sand.
There were two serious hurricanes during the sittum construction. Hurricane Dennis lasted six days, August 30 to September 5, 1999, and seemed to run all over, in and out to sea and back with reduced strength but lots of rain and flooding. Beach areas survived remarkably well. Hurricane Floyd, September 16, 1999, was a much more severe storm with flooding inland, but because of its pathway and short duration, beaches were not severely damaged. Cement contractors replaced a walkway from the parking lot to the sittum by the end of September.
Craig Lewis, a skillful carpenter and builder for McMillian and also an avid surfer, told me recently he remembers well working on the new sittum when the winds got stronger and stronger. When it was almost impossible to work, he looked out at the ocean and saw the biggest surf he had ever seen. The new steps were not affected at all by the hurricane, however, it did cause delay in construction of the sittum.
There had been some debate about having the sittum out near the beach or set back in the dunes. The fact the sittum has been secure where it is currently located for over 17 years is testimony to the wisdom of the PKA board decisions in 1999. 
Sand fences were installed near the base of the steps along the whole width of Ocean Park in September 1999. They were angled based on Scott McMillan’s recommendation and extended at least 20 feet toward the surf. Scott always was a proponent of sand fences, and they were a key part of the planning with Charlie Kirchner. Bill Stanley, soon-to-be-Ocean Park chairman, supervised installation of sand fences with volunteers starting in October 1999.
In the weeks following, one could observe how the fences were starting to collect sand. It’s important to note that as far back as 1994 sand fences were discussed and also installed at various times. Fences were also installed in 1996 after Hurricane Fran, but the concept was always a combination of sand fences and pushing sand after storms caused erosion. All of those fences were washed out with hurricanes and northeasters in 1996, 1997 and 1998. The sand fences installed in 1999 eventually built up sand to the top of the fences and more fences were installed at the higher level. In some areas, sand is now three sand-fences deep.  
The Town of Pine Knoll Shores developed a sand fence program that was very effective in building back dunes, coupled with planting vegetation to help hold the sand. Since the sand fences were installed in 1999 at Ocean Park and after buildup of sand, more fences installed on top, the new dune has risen up to six feet to cover at least nine of the new steps to the beach. All those steps are now under the sand. It is possible to stand on the beach at the end of the walkway and look toward the steps and see nine steps coming down to a landing, then three steps going down to sand level with the walkway to the beach. The remaining nine steps that used to go to beach level are totally covered with sand—due to the sand-fence effect. There has been no bulldozing of sand on the beach since early 1999.
In late October 1999, I stepped down as Ocean Park chairman. Bill Stanley became the new Ocean Park chairman and immediately worked with volunteers and supervised completion of the sand fence on the dunes and construction of a wooden handrail along the new cement walkway. The project is now complete and has been in good use ever since.
Ocean Park, 2002
Google Earth - Time Back 
In the spring of 2000, Bill Stanley and volunteers moved the shower area from the wooden walkway near the flagpole to the current location because it was causing erosion of sand. In April 2013, under the leadership of PKA President and Construction Foreman Dick Belanger and Ocean Park Chairman Bill Steenland, volunteers built the handicap-accessible ramp around the sittum to the beach, a most welcome addition. In February 2016, Ocean Park Chairman Shannon Smylie, with PKA President and construction foreman Dick Belanger and volunteers, rebuilt the shower area.
Ocean Park, 2015 showing the handicap-accessible ramp around the sittum to the beach.
Carteret County, GISconnect
The Ocean Park sittum and beach continue as a local treasure, a very important asset for residents of Pine Knoll Association and PIKSCO to enjoy for many years to come. The storms during the years 1996 -1999 impacted many of the stairs and oceanfront decks all along Pine Knoll Shores as well as putting some oceanfront residences at risk. Those affected worked as diligently as the folks responsible for Ocean Park to overcome the challenges nature presented—rebuilding, installing sand-fences and planting beach grasses—getting everything back to shipshape condition. Perhaps those involved can document the actions they took.

Post Author: Tom Tempel