How did Ogunquit Beach Get its Dunes?

We love the dunes of Ogunquit Beach just as much as you do (they are our namesake after all). Getting to look out at them is one of the sweetest parts of life here, but sometimes when you see a thing every day you can become immune to its majesty. That’s why we’re taking this post to re-meet the dunes of Ogunquit Beach. Here, we look back at how they were made, their role in human life, and their future.

The dunes of Ogunquit Beach from our land
The dunes of Ogunquit Beach as seen from our land

If you were to take a stroll down Ogunquit Beach in 1750, you’d be sharing the serene views with some non human companions––sheep, cows, and maybe even a goat or two. That’s because early settlers to Maine used the beaches as livestock highways and the dunes as grazing fields. If you’ve ever been to Ogunquit Beach, you know that there isn’t much vegetation on the dunes (just a few tufts of beach grass and sea oats here and there) and there wasn’t much in the 18th century either. Under the literal weight of the settler’s herds, the dunes on Ogunquit Beach lost much of their flora and land mass. In fact, things got so bad there that King George II had to issue a proclamation banning the use of these delicate coastal areas for farming purposes. “Be it therefore enacted,” began his handwritten decree.

The origin story behind the dunes of Ogunquit Beach goes back much further than colonial times, of course. Before the settlers and King George II, and before the Penobscot tribes, Ogunquit Beach and the dunes were under development by the Atlantic Ocean and the wind. All sand dunes — from the Sahara to South Carolina — are primarily the result of winds. Onshore winds push sand around into piles where it starts to collect and form

A section from the King's decree
A section from the King’s decree

shapes. Eventually, seeds find their way to these little hills as they’re forming and put down roots. The roots of plants then trap more sand in place and help the baby dune grow into something of real size like the dunes you see on Ogunquit Beach today.

Since Ogunquit Beach is bordered on one side by the Ogunquit Tidal River, the dunes had two sources of sand to grown from. Today, every grain of sand that constitutes an Ogunquit Beach dune came originally from the flat sand on the shore, and every grain of sand there has probably spent some time in a dune. And so it will continue, with sand passing back and forth from dunes to the flats for many centuries to come.

The tidal river looking out towards the dunes
The tidal river looking out towards the dunes

Today, Ogunquit Beach and its dunes are healthy but still delicate. Luckily, there are plenty of stellar citizens who volunteer to protect them. One such group is the Southern Maine Volunteer Beach Profile Monitoring Program. Those involved get together every year to monitor the height and grade of Ogunquit Beach in order to ensure it’s not losing too much ground too fast to erosion and other forces. You can learn more about them here.

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