Beach Access Issues
March 8, 2008

Several hundred people gather at Cape Point to celebrate beach access


The weather was not pretty today on Hatteras Island, but there were about 200 people and 100 or so vehicles at Cape Point – not to fish or surf or kiteboard but to celebrate their access to this beach, the most popular on Hatteras Island.

They came in the worst possible weather to make a statement about what access to this beach means to them.

The group included Hatteras islanders and folks who regularly visit the island.

They came to support continued access to areas of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore that are in danger of being closed year-round.

They gathered in somewhat of a lull in the pouring rain and storms that pounded Hatteras in the morning.  But the showers continued, the wind never let up, and the sand was smoking.  Winds were steady at gale force with gusts up to about 50 mph.

The Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, have asked U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle to close Cape Point and other popular areas of the seashore to off-road-vehicles until the National Park Service addresses its lack of a plan for regulating ORVs on the beach.

The groups claim that the Park Service’s interim plan, designed to manage ORV use on the beaches until a long-term plan is devised by a negotiated rulemaking process along with an environmental impact statement, does not go far enough to protect nesting shorebirds, including the threatened piping plovers and others, such as black skimmers, American oystercatchers, and least terns.

“It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me,” said Fred Lewis of Richmond who was out at Cape Point with his wife, Patricia.

“This is a national park not a wildlife refuge,” Lewis added. “There’s a refuge 40 miles to the north.”

Lewis and his wife come to Hatteras 20 to 25 times a year, they said, to fish at Cape Point and other areas that the environmental groups want closed, including the Bodie Island spit, Hatteras Inlet, and the north and south points of Ocracoke.

“We’re good stewards of the environment,” Lewis said, adding that they obey the rules of the beach closures for nesting birds and turtles, and even clean up the trash while they fish at the Point.

Jim Bocrie, Jr., came from Richmond to make his statement about beach access.

“I’ve been doing this since I was 5 years old,” he said, “and I’m now 40.” 

Bocrie said he made 32 trips to Hatteras in 2007 with his wife and three daughters in their camper.  He estimates that they spent $17,000 on the island last year.

“We could do other things,” he said, “but they like coming here. We do other things while we are here – going to the movies, shopping at Food Lion or Conner’s.”

Mike Hayes of Southern Shores came out in the nasty weather because he didn’t want to see “everyone’s access denied.”

Our rights are just being whittled away,” he said, noting that he’s been watching beach access increasingly curtailed for 10 years.

Several people at the celebration gathering talked about having first come to Hatteras with their grandparents and now visiting with their children and grandchildren.

Now they are worried about the possibility of losing their access to the beaches.

“If I can’t drive on the beach, there’s no reason to spend the time and the money to come here,” said Steven Stepp of Hampton, Va.

The celebration of beach access was coordinated by Rob Alderman, whose Web site is a popular place for news about fishing and beach access issues.  Most of the locals and visitors at the gathering said they found out about it through e-mails that traveled among groups of beach users.

Alderman had planned to arrange the vehicles to spell out a message and to send that message out to all who would listen.

The message was to be “PLEASE HELP US” to preserve beach access.

The weather put an end to plans to have the vehicles spell out the message and have it photographed from the air.  It wasn’t a day for flying.

Instead, everyone gathered at Cape Point for a group photo.

While they were blasted by gusts and sand, folks posed patiently, many with U.S. flags held aloft in the stiff southwest winds.

Alderman, who was pleased with the turnout on a nasty day, says he will try again later to spell his message in the sand.


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