Beach Access Issues
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 Ocracoke.

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 South Beach.

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 area.

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.


(More information about access can be found in the National Park Service’s weekly beach access report, also on the Beach Access Issues page.)







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