| May 8, 2008
Park Service closes more of the South Beach near Cape Point
By IRENE NOLAN
The National Park Service today closed more of the South Beach near Cape Point to ORVs and pedestrians.
The closure is more bad news for surf fishermen since it comes at the
height of the spring fishing season and for beachcombers and other
recreational users of the seashore’s beaches. It also has
business owners worried about economic fallout and some visitors
deciding whether or not to continue to vacation on Hatteras and
The closure today is in addition to others that have been implemented
since last week on April 30 when U.S. District Court Judge Terrence W.
Boyle signed a consent decree that settled a lawsuit against the Park
Service by environmental groups over ORV use on the seashore.
The lawsuit targeted the Park Service’s Interim Protected Species
Strategy that was implemented last year and was to guide beach access
on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore until a long-term ORV regulation
is formulated by a negotiated rulemaking committee. The plaintiff
environmental groups claimed the interim plan did not do enough to
protect birds and turtles on the beaches.
The Park Service in the past week had closed areas near Ramp 43 and
Ramp 44 to Cape Point for breeding behavior by least terns, cutting off
Point access from the east. In addition, there have been other
resource closures that have shut down access to the Point from the southwest.
Although Cape Point is not shut down, the other closures made it inaccessible from the east or west.
However, an area of less than a mile between Cape Point and the South
Beach closures on the hook of Cape Point had remained open to fishermen
and other beachgoers – until this morning.
That area was accessible by using an interdunal, or back road, that
takes ORV traffic from Ramp 44, behind the Point, and out onto the
The interdunal road leads out to the beach behind Ramp 45 at the Cape
Point Campground. At the point the road fans out onto the beach,
a small dune and grassy area had formed.
Hatteras Island’s head district ranger John McCutcheon said he
was called to the area by a Park Service biotechnician early this
morning, where a single least tern egg was found near the grassy area.
ORV users, McCutcheon said, had been driving around that area. However,
the consent decree requires a 100-meter buffer around the nest.
Thus, the interdunal road has been closed, ending access to the area.
The beach that is now open to ORVs – and pedestrians – from
Buxton to the Frisco Pier now consists of a hundred yards or so at Ramp
43, about .6 mile from Ramp 44 out to Cape Point, and 1.7 miles from
Ramp 49 in Frisco east toward the Point. There is also close to a
mile open right now from Ramp 49 toward the pier, but about half of
that, in front of Frisco cottages, will be closed May 15 when the
seasonal closures at the seashore kick in.
The area from near the Frisco Pier to Ramp 55 in Hatteras village is closed to ORVs but is open to pedestrians now.
At Hatteras Inlet, McCutcheon said, ORV access is permitted from Ramp
55 almost to the Hatteras Inlet spit, which is closed for a pre-nesting
These closures have cut off fishermen from prime fishing areas and have
made it impossible even for pedestrians to walk the beach, look for
shells, and swim or sit and enjoy the ambiance.
McCutcheon says that he feels the Hatteras Island district that he
supervises has been reduced to “a bunch of cul-de-sacs” and
that he worries where all the beachgoers will go and park when the
summer crowd arrives.
In an interview this week, Mike Murray, superintendent of the Cape
Hatteras National Seashore, said that the consent decree does not allow
him as much discretion on beach closures as the interim plan did. The
buffers, or areas around the birds and turtles are, he said,
“non-discretionary,” while the interim plan provided for
discussion among the various user groups to provide access around
closed natural resource areas.
Murray said he wants to give islanders and visitors as much beach
access as he can but that he is “obligated and required”
under the consent decree to enforce the buffer zones around the
park’s protected wildlife.
Murray said that there is a seven-person “incident management
team” on the seashore now to help his staff organize and plan for
a year of most stringent regulations and the increased staffing levels
required to enforce the new buffer closures and the ban on night
driving from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. He described the group as a
“thinking and organizing team” to help the seashore with
its increased responsibilities.
information about access can be found in the National Park
Service’s weekly beach access report, also on the Beach Access