Interning at the Town of Nags Head Planning Department (a legal perspective)

About Me

I am a sophomore and an Environmental Studies major with a History minor. I would like to continue on to Law School and wanted an internship that exposed me to legal issues. I have also considered getting a Master’s in Public Administration at UNC, so interning with local government was complimentary to this.

My Project

Nags Head

Steve and I shared an internship and a project. We were tasked with making a comprehensive toolkit for the Town’s upcoming living shoreline project; this included a legal and literature review, conducting interviews, and exploring possible grant opportunities. The goal of a living shoreline is to stabilize and protect the coast using natural materials. Often, the project goal is to restore native vegetation along the coastline. Vegetation helps stabilize the shoreline by securing sediments with their roots. This stabilization is vital in protecting the coast from erosion, which was the primary concern of the Town. Other benefits of living shorelines are increased carbon storage, improved water quality, providing habitat for wildlife, and buffering flooding and storm surges. In this case, the proposed living shoreline is to be implemented on the estuarine side of Nags Head. The Town had received a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, enabling the Town to hire a consultant. While the consultant was going to concentrate on the ecology of the living shoreline, Steve and I tried to contribute to the project by examining possible obstacles. A majority of the estuarine side is comprised of private property, meaning the Town needed permission to access this area and to construct the living shoreline. Permission for the construction and maintenance of the living shoreline could be obtained through easements. Easements are a legal agreement giving another party permission to use the property owner’s land in a way that they would not otherwise have the right to do. Obtaining an easement requires knowledge of stakeholder perception regarding the project. Through interviews with nearby towns (Kitty Hawk and Duck) that had completed a similar living shoreline project, Steve and I gained a better understanding of public opinion. We also conducted interviews with legal professionals to gain better insight into what rights the Town had as well as what the easements would need to express. We did the same with grants, getting people with plenty of experience to give us insight. Steve and I compiled all the information we had gathered doing research and interviewing people and formatted it into an interactive toolkit. The Town and consultant will use this toolkit as they formalize plans for the living shoreline. 

My Experiences

Interviewing Law professors: Joe Kalo and Donald Hornstein

For a wanna-be lawyer, speaking with lawyers as well respected and experienced as Joe Kalo and Donald Hornstein was a dream come true. Joe Kalo is a former professor at UNC-CH and is cited in numerous publications. Joe was super fun to talk to, especially about property law and riparian rights. Our law and policy class this semester, taught by another outstanding lawyer, Lee Leidy, had prepared us well for our talk with Joe. He knew case law and asked great questions that made us think about our understanding of riparian rights. Donald Hornstein is a current professor at UNC-CH who specializes in insurance law. Dr. Hornstein again asked great questions and talked with us about easements. He brought up concerns that property owners might have as well as concerns the Town might have. I look forward to taking his ENEC 350 class next semester. I loved getting to talk with practicing lawyers and see if my interpretations were consistent with theirs. 

Speaking with Joe Heard of the Town of Duck

This is Duck’s Boardwalk, and the marsh used to be in line with it. Erosion has brought the marsh behind the boardwalk.

Getting to speak with Joe Heard from the Town of Duck was a treat. Duck is such a cute town that is very walkable. This is in part to their boardwalk, which Nags Head is also considering implementing. Duck had completed their planning process for a living shoreline project and received numerous grants to get the project started. Joe was instrumental in articulating how a project like this comes to fruition. He was so nice and eager to help; it was great getting to know him.

Going out into the field with Kate 

Kate is the environmental planner at the Town and my mentor! Part of her job is to monitor stormwater quality and implement regulations. Kate took Steve and me to a water quality test site, where we got to help collect the water sample and bottle it for the lab. We also got to do a site visit with her at a proposed construction site. We noticed that the house next to the site had flattened its swales, otherwise known as dunes. Steve and I loved witnessing the finding of a violation firsthand.

View during the drive home

Favorite Moments

Steve brought boiled potatoes and mayonnaise for lunch, and everyone thought he was malnourished; he is not. My next favorite was people bringing their dogs into the office.

I dropped an entire new box of snacks


We met Josie and Bo, both of whom were super sweet. During our breaks, Steve and I would go for walks along the beach right across from town hall. It was nice to be outside and watch Steve chase birds. After a long day of work, I would roll down the windows and blare music on the drive back to the guest house. Blaring Adele, Beyonce, and Taylor Swift was a cathartic experience; Steve was vibing.


Steve chasing birds on a beach walk


My time at the Nags Head Planning Department allowed me to make valuable connections. I really enjoyed all of the interviews we did, getting to know such amazing people. I also got to see what it takes to run a local government. Everyone at the Town was so kind and willing to work with us. Working within local government is an underpaid and understaffed endeavor. The people that dedicate their time to improving the lives of the residents are so special and are often not thanked for their efforts or underappreciated. I want to call attention to some of these people: Kate Jones, Holly White, Kelley Wyatt, Kylie Shepard, Margaux Kerr, Lily Campos Nieberding, Ed Snyder, Steve Szymanski, Cory Tate, Kim Thompson, Shannon Krzyzanowski, Bobbisue Louvros, Andy Garman. These are just a handful of people I had the privilege to interact with during my time with the Town. I had a lot of fun this semester and value the experience I gained. 




My favorite part of the Outer Banks Field Site is the people. At the guest house, there is always something to do and always someone to do it with. Any event can be turned into a fun experience. For example, one Tuesday night, I was upstairs along with some of my best-est friends, watching a movie. Some of my other classmates were downstairs, cooking dinner. Then our relaxing evening was suddenly interrupted by a blaring alarm. Everyone in the house was just confused. There was no smell of smoke in the air and there were no flames to be seen. Those of us watching a movie wandered down the stairs to see if something had happened in the kitchen. All we found were people just as confused as we were. Our RA, Rachel, told us to go wait outside until we could figure out if there was truly any danger. So onto the porch, we migrated. One of my classmates, Steve, sat on the porch, still cooking his instant noodles.

Steve and his noodles

Another resident of the house came running out, wrapped in a towel and another towel in her hair. As you can imagine, she was thrilled. There was no sense of panic at all, just annoyance and confusion. Right at this moment, our classmate Kenan pulls into the midst of all this chaos. Confused, he joins the group in waiting for something to happen. Eventually, the firemen arrived. One had arrived before the engines and had gone into the house to detect smoke. Before he entered the house, he asked us to go stand far away, so we went and stood in the dark corner of the parking lot. When he exited the house, back up had arrived. Two fire engines and a whole fleet of police cars blocked off the intersection. He told them that he did detect smoke, so the firemen began to suit up. All of us just stood in the parking lot in disbelief. Steve ate his noodles. Another classmate and resident, Mackenzie and Caid, continued to eat their meal. Another resident sat down and took a nap. The rest of us looked on, waiting to see the house engulfed in flames. Thankfully that never happened; to pass the time we began to play Among Us. Eventually, the firemen arrived at the same conclusion we had: there was no emergency. Come to find out, the fire alarm was triggered by meatballs. As inconvenient as this situation was, cracking jokes and playing games made it seem like another regular night. 

Another example was our fall break. For our fall break, we decided to drive up to Washington D.C.

Blakely and Nathalie taking a picture of me on our way to D.C.

One of our classmates, Jane, and her family were nice enough to host us on their farm in Maryland. It was truly beautiful; we got to feed horses, ride around in a gator, and camp out. One of the days, a smaller group of us decided to head into the city. We drove to the train station and rode the metro in. There we spent the whole day exploring D.C. with its many museums and sites. After an amazing Italian dinner, we decided to explore the city at night. Nathalie, Joseph, and I rented scooters while Steve and Blakely took a relaxing stroll towards the Washington Monument. The city had become quiet in the night. The monuments were illuminated and the moon was shining bright; it was truly beautiful. It was a perfect night and the reflecting pool proved to be the perfect place to ride scooters. Since it was a long straight line, you could push the scooter to its max without having to be worried about being hit by a car. We weaved in and out of people, racing from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. It was a blast and a night that I will remember. 


The Washington Monument

More recently, it was Halloween. Of course, we carved pumpkins. It was so fun to sit around, listen to Halloween music, and see what people decided to carve. Some went the creative route while others were more traditional. One of my favorites was my classmate Rebekah’s pumpkin. She took an out-of-this-world approach, making her pumpkin extraterrestrial.

Rebekah’s Pumpkin

Another one of my favorites was Jason’s. His pumpkin was so wholesome, embodying the spirit of fall. Joseph’s pumpkin deserves an honorable mention since this was his first time carving a Jack O’ Lantern. It was hard to believe that he had never carved a pumpkin before, but he took to it quickly. Halloween night a group of us watched the Shining. It was Blakely’s (who was Monica from Friends) and my (who was Rachel from Friends) first time watching the Shining, but Fran (who was a chef), Nathalie (who was Steve), and Kenan (who was Cheech) were there to enjoy our gasps of surprise and shock. After the movie, we talked about our favorite parts and other scary movies we love.

Joseph and his pumpkin

I guess the point I am trying to make with all these anecdotes is that it is the people that make these experiences so memorable. I have experienced a fire drill before, but not while wearing flame socks with Steve eating noodles. I have been to D.C. before, but never with friends and never having ridden a scooter around the capital’s monuments. And for Halloween, I have carved a pumpkin before, but only ever with my family. Each person here has changed my life, and that includes my professors, the people I have met at my internship, and all the random people I have met at the guest house. If you decide to experience the field site, the friends you make will change your life for the better. 

(left to right) Kenan, Steve, Nathalie, Fran, Jane, Blakely, Joseph in D.C.