Tales of the Coast
Sharing the Coast



For much of the nation's history, there was little time or means for people to vacation. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, residents of crowded cities began seeking places to relax, swim, and sunbathe. The sun-drenched beaches of barrier islands on the East Coast provided these recreational opportunities, and soon recreation became a common activity on coastal barriers.

Fenwick Island, the site of Ocean City, Maryland, was developed specifically to be such a vacation destination. Today, recreation remains the most important socioeconomic activity at Ocean City. The town hosts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year who come for the sunbathing and swimming opportunities, and the entire beachfront contains accommodations for tourists.

Recreation is the lifeblood of many areas along the Atlantic coast and elsewhere. It has resulted in many changes to the landscape and efforts to maintain beaches.


Landscape Changes

Coastal recreation led people to build hotels, roads, and other structures extremely close to the shoreline, sometimes on the beach itself. In the process, dunes, which are natural protective measures, were destroyed and sediment transport was often interrupted. This left recreational communities exposed to storm damage and erosion, particularly along East Coast barriers.

Recreational development also damaged habitats, such as salt marshes and dune ecosystems that were altered or filled to accommodate structures. Mangrove coasts and swamps along the Gulf of Mexico were also filled for land reclamation and mosquito control as Florida became increasingly developed.

These impacts encouraged the Corps and other officials to implement engineering measures. Preserving the beach is central to recreational activities because vacationers seek swimming and sunbathing opportunities. People and developments must also be protected from storms and flooding, and beach nourishment can provide wave absorption and storm protection as well as recreational benefits.

Environmental restoration is another response to landscape changes from recreation. The Corps uses dredged material to create wildlife habitats and marsh substrate, thereby assisting in the restoration of natural areas.

Ocean City, Maryland

Ocean City, Maryland
Source: National Scenic Byways Program

At the Beach

Changes in the 20th century such as the spread of automobiles and increased leisure time led to the popularity of beach recreation. With beaches being more heavily used and developed, erosion became a problem. The Corps utilizes engineering methods to maintain recreational beaches.

Maintaining the Beach

Recreational developments have sometimes threatened the very beaches that visitors aim to enjoy. Coastal engineering solutions can maintain and protect these recreational areas.