For the past few years, Crystal Cove Conservancy has been hard at work thinking about best practices to restore the remaining 17 unrestored cottages at the Historic District’s North Beach. With restoration of these cottages and the infrastructure surrounding them comes many issues due to the environmental factors that the cottages face.  As sea levels begin to rise, and storms become more frequent, Crystal Cove Conservancy faces the challenge of not only restoring the cottages, but designing a boardwalk. This boardwalk will be able to withstand the changing ocean and beach conditions, without limiting accessibility to the public, including mobily-impaired guests, and support the weight of emergency vehicles. This boardwalk will be the key to ensuring that the cottages are not only protected today, but also well into the future. 

For teachers:  If you are a teacher and would like to run this project with your science or math class, feel free to use this lesson guide and student notebook pages as a guide!

We would like to know who is taking part in the program! Please fill out this participation form if you have used any of the challenges.

How You Can Help!

That’s where we need your help!  You can help by working alongside us to help us design a solution to our boardwalk challenge and sharing these designs with us and other land managers at Crystal Cove.

To help us, you will need to:

  1. Learn more about the environmental factors that Crystal Cove’s North Beach faces. 
  2. Submit a design brief explaining the problem you will address and how you plan to solve it.
  3. Research designs and solutions that have been implemented in the past, including the results of those designs or solutions.
  4. Develop a preliminary design using Tinkercad, a free app for 3D design.
  5. Build and test a prototype of your solution.
  6. Optimize and retest your design.
  7. Share your recommendations and designs back with us!
  8. Reflect on your experience.

Thank you in advance for your help!  We’re really excited to see what you’ll design.  If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact us by emailing

Introduction to the North Beach Boardwalk Challenge

Start by watching and listening to the Introduction to the North Beach Boardwalk Challenge slideshow presentation with Erick and Kaitlin on Voicethread.

Step 1:  Investigate the Environmental Challenge

Before exploring how to build the boardwalk, you’ll need to learn more about how beaches change and how buildings and other structures can affect them.  View the Changing Beaches slideshow on Voicethread to learn more.  

To learn more about how different factors affect beaches, visit the links below!


Step 2:  Define the Problem

The next step in the engineering design process is to define the problem that you’re trying to solve!  To do this, you’ll need to learn more about the success criteria that your boardwalk will need to meet, along with any other requirements or design constraints.  After that, you’ll create a design brief that concisely describes the problem and what you intend to do.  

To learn more about the design criteria and design constraints for the boardwalk project, watch this video with Erick on Youtube

Once you’re done investigating the design criteria and constraints, you’ll need to submit a design brief.  As a civil engineer, a design brief is your chance to describe the problem that you’re trying to solve (usually to your client) and explain how you plan to solve it. At this stage, you don’t need to share a specific design or solution.  Instead, you’ll describe what your problem-solving process will look like and what your design will need to be able to do to be considered successful.

Use our Google Form to complete the design brief on how you plan to address the boardwalk challenge on Crystal Cove State Park’s North Beach!

Step 3: Research Possible Ideas

Designing a boardwalk that promotes access for guests and vehicles and is adaptable to changing ocean conditions is a difficult task! It can be helpful to research designs that have been implemented in the past in other places.

Below, you’ll find examples of designs and solutions that have been implemented in beach communities to help prevent beach erosion and protect access. As you explore, think about what these designs and solutions do well and where they could improve.  Please feel free to research other designs and solutions on your own, too!  

Examples of Designs and Solutions implemented for shoreline protection:

Broad Beach, Malibu

Capistrano Beach, Dana Point

Surfer’s Point, Ventura 

Step 4: Design Your Solution

The fourth step in the engineering design process is to design your solution.  You can use a 3D modeling tool — commonly called computer-aided design, or CAD for short — to create a design showing how you want your boardwalk to look!

Your challenge is to construct a boardwalk that can withstand the weight of a truck and the impact of waves, while keeping as minimal impact on the beach as possible. If you want to try out a CAD program to create your design, we recommend using Tinkercad, which is a 3D modeling tool that you can use for free online!

For some suggestions on how to get started with Tinkercad, please check out our Tinkercad Crash Course video on YouTube!

Remember that you’ll need to share your final design and explain how it helps to meet the design criteria and constraints at the end of the project, so don’t forget to save it!

Step 5: Build and Test Your Prototype Boardwalk

Once you’ve finished designing your boardwalk, it’s time to build and test your prototype! Watch this video with Kaitlin to learn how to test your prototype! 

Using household supplies, build your design for the boardwalk. Below are possible materials that you can use to help you construct your boardwalk.

  • Glue gun
  • Tape
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Cardboard or Paper
  • Aluminum foil
  • Tooth picks
  • Straws
  • Pencils
  • Cotton Swabs
  • Pasta
  • Anything you can think of!

Remember, your boardwalk will need to be able to withstand a certain amount of weight and also be able to withstand changing ocean and beach conditions. To test these, you can:

  1. Test your prototype with weight by placing 1 liter of water on top (in a container, either bottles or cups)
  2. Test your boardwalk in a wave tank (use a sink, bathtub, sterlite container, half a milk gallon or 2 liter bottle, etc.) Make small consistent waves for 3 minutes and record any changes or observations.  If you can, think about how to compare the results of your test to a “natural” beach, and what data you may want to be looking at.

As you’re testing your model, answer the following questions about how your model performed, and submit your results using this Google Forms

Step 6: Optimize and Retest your Design

After building and testing your model comes the optimization phase! Now that you’ve had a change to test and reflect on your model, you can go back to improve your design to try and achieve all your criteria for success.

After you make changes to your design, go back and retest it. Continue optimizing your model until all of your criteria for success are met.

Step 7: Share your Results and Make a Recommendation

Now that you’ve designed a solution and tested it, we want to hear from you! Did your design work? What recommendation would you give to Crystal Cove when designing and constructing a boardwalk for the North Beach?

Please share your findings through Google Forms! As part of your conclusion, it would be really helpful to get images of your design as well as videos demonstrating how it works, that way, we can share it with land managers at Crystal Cove State Park. 

Step 8:  Reflect on the Boardwalk Challenge

It’s important for scientists to take some time to reflect on how their thinking has changed. Watch the video of Kaitlin to help you start reflecting on your experiences with the boardwalk challenge and answer the following reflection questions.

  1. What did you do during this environmental challenge?
  2. What did you learn? How did your thinking change?
  3. Do you think it is important to protect the historic cottages on the North Beach? Why or why not?
  4. Did you enjoy designing a solution and building and testing a model? What did or didn’t you like about the experience?
  5. Would you like to learn more about coastal engineering? If so, what topics interest you? Do you have ideas of how you could learn more about them?

Did you enjoy doing the work of a coastal engineer? Would you like to learn more about marine careers? Explore career options by reading interviews with people who have a wide range of interests that are connected to the ocean at You can learn more about coastal engineering jobs at Ocean Engineering and Job Profile: Coastal Engineer.

Thank you for your help!  If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact us by emailing

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