When a bulldozer showed up on August 15, 1973 ready to flatten the largest dune system on the East Coast and develop the land, Carolista Baum took a stand, quite literally. She stood in front of that machine and would not move until the driver left.
Her action galvanized local residents and thousands of people who cared about preserving the character of the Outer Banks and not quite two years later, on May 31, 1975, Jockey’s Ridge State Park was officially added to the North Carolina state park system.
Today the towering dune, extensive dune system, and small maritime forest on the soundside, is consistently the most visited or second most visited park in the state system.
Carolista Baum was recently given a long overdue acknowledgment when a highway marker commemorating her actions was unveiled at the entrance to Jockey’s Ridge State Park.
Baum’s actions did not stop when she halted the bulldozer. A jeweler by trade—at the event, many of the participants were wearing her gold pieces—she put into place a plan to create the financial support to purchase the land and unrelenting political pressure needed to force political action in Raleigh.
For the event, the North Carolina Archive Office asked former Governor Jim Hunt if he had memories of Carolista Baum. Hunt served two stints as governor, 1977–1985 and 1993–2001. Hunt was the longest-serving governor in state history.
“I remember Carolista well,” he told the Archive Office “As North Carolina’s longest-serving governor I remember who hounded me the most about our natural resources. It was Carolista Baum. She had a passion to save Jockey’s Ridge.”
What set Baum apart from so many other activists was her understanding of how to accomplish her goals.
After taking her quite literal stand in front of the bulldozer, she co-founded the group People to Preserve Jockey’s Ridge and was its president. The group served as a fund-raising and lobbying organization for the creation of the park.
She was amazingly effective at what she did.
Rather than look for large donors, she turned the campaign to preserve Jockey’s Ridge into a rallying point that everyone could relate to. As an example PPJR created a BUY A PIECE OF THE RIDGE promotion, telling people that for a $5.00 donation, they could be an honorary owner of a square foot of Jockey’s Ridge for which they would receive a certificate of ownership.
It was her petition drive, though, that may have been the most effective tool in getting the attention of politicians. In two weeks, according to a number of sources, she and the people who were working with her amassed 25,000 signatures—which she hand-delivered to the state legislature. Putting that in perspective, the population of Dare County at that time was 9300, with about 7000 full-time residents north of Oregon Inlet.
Ultimately Baum delivered some 50,000 petitions to the state capital.
She was a thorn in the side of state legislators, going to Raleigh once every three weeks, according to reports.
Yet through it all, she maintained a certain charm, and George Barnes, the first Park Supervisor of Jockey’s Ridge, recounted what it was like to encounter her, telling the gathering for the unveiling of the marker, “She was a feisty young lady. But she was lovable.”
Carolista Baum passed away in 1991. Her two daughters and son were on hand for the event.