April 7, 2008

Commentary…One more gathering to celebrate beach access


An eerie sensation descended upon the island like the fog that hid our lighthouse from view.  One by one, islanders and some visitors headed out to the beaches of Cape Hatteras.

It was April 4, the day the request by environmental groups for a temporary injunction to close popular areas on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore was scheduled to be heard in U.S. District Court in Raleigh.  Two days earlier, a call had gone out for the folks to show up on the Hatteras beaches at noon to demonstrate support for free and open access for everyone.  There was talk that the court hearing might be continued, but no one knew for sure.  Some felt it could be their last legal trip driving across the sands to Cape Point.

Adding to the island’s feeling of doom was the fact that all communications were lost around mid-morning.  The Internet was down, as were most cell phones, and only a few land lines were working to let the people know the latest news.  At high noon, dozens of people congregated on the beach at the Point, completely in the dark.
Side by side, the vehicles parked under the overcast skies.  Kids and dogs ran around playfully, adding a lighter mood to their surroundings.  Seagulls poked around the gathering, looking for their usual handouts.  Several U.S. and state flags flew proudly in the backs of trucks.  Three children marched between parked vehicles with a red, white, and blue retail flag that said, “We are Open.”  Some women rode around on horseback.

Bright signs were taped to sides of vehicles and windshields were written on with window paint, all the messages relaying an angry sentiment of what these people wanted from our government.

“Don’t Deny Access.”

“Buckeyes for ORV Access.”

“The Land of No.”

 “Save our Beaches.”

 A news reporter and cameraman from Channel 3 in Norfolk mingled in the crowd, asking people for their opinion about the possibility of closing the beach access.  No one was afraid to voice their thoughts for the 5 o’clock news.

 “Tell me how much the tickets will be so I can budget how many times I can go to the beach a year,” one local businessman stated.

 “That $600 stimulus check the government is sending in May won’t do much to help us if this goes through,” said another.
 Although the gathering was calm and orderly, the fire that burned in the hearts of the attendees was fierce.  In every group of people was a person taking a turn on the soapbox, citing the many falsehoods and injustices they perceived.  Everyone was well read and well educated on the facts.  These people were part of the army that had written, e-mailed, and called congressmen, the governor, and every possible news agency.  They had gathered thousands of names on the petition that circulated.  They wanted and needed to be heard.

With no news and no connection with the outside world, the crowd slowly broke up after a couple of hours.  Some were reluctant to leave because there was a chance that it may be a long time before they could return.

“This is the way the beach used to look, big and wide,” my driver said.
We drove quickly across the sand made firm by the tide.  There were bumps that ran towards the dunes.

“Camel humps are what we called these,” the driver reminisced. “Used to jump them with our motorcycles when we were kids.”

Let’s hope that the children of tomorrow can see the beach the way we saw it today.



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