Dispatches from the beachfront
New June 9, 2008
The little oystercatchers that could
closures on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore have gotten more
attention than ever this summer – from the media, on the message
boards, and in conversations at local stores and post offices.
of the beach is closed than ever before as a result of a consent
decree, signed by a federal judge on April 30, that settled a lawsuit
by environmental groups over ORV use on the seashore.
National Park Service is required to put up buffers around nesting
shorebirds, including the American oystercatcher, which is not defined
as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
breeding and nesting oystercatchers on seashore beaches require a
buffer of 150 meters (492 feet), which in some cases can close
access to areas of the beach that are still open. This is part of
what has happened to close Cape Point.
Once the chicks have hatched, the buffer must be 200 meters (656 feet).
Then, you have the case of the little oystercatchers that could.
These oystercatchers did not get the word about nesting on the beach and the buffers that are available.
Instead it nested on the soundside of Hatteras Island, just east of Hatteras village, in the area known as Sandy Bay.
nest was just 40 meters (131) feet off Highway 12, and the little
oystercatchers that could sat on the nest as trucks and cars whipped by
at 55 mph.
consent decree stipulates that when nesting occurs in the
“immediate vicinity of paved roads, parking lots, campgrounds,
buildings, and other facilities, NPS retains the discretion to provide
resource protections to the maximum extent possible while still
allowing those sites to remain operational.”
In other words, the Park Service is not required to close down Highway 12 for nesting birds.
was the prescribed buffer to the east and west of the nest, but only 40
meters – not the required 150 – to the south along the
On May 30, the two-egg nest hatched, and a week later, the parents and two chicks are foraging close to the sound in the area.
lot of them are less disturbed by vehicles,” says Britta
Muiznieks, wildlife biologist with the National Park Service.
some degree birds are more tolerant of people in their vehicles,”
says Susan Cameron, waterbird biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife
Resources Commission. She added that there are different levels of
tolerance for vehicles for different species.
who tried to stop along the highway to get a closer look at the little
oystercatchers that could or to photograph them found that out.
The birds, seemingly tolerant of the traffic, flew off the nest if a
said the couple who set up housekeeping at Sandy Bay is a new
pair. One of the oystercatchers is banded, and the Park Service
knows that it nested last year north of Buxton. There was a pair
last year at Sandy Bay, and seashore biologists think that the other
oystercatcher is one of the two there last year.
takes oystercatcher chicks about 35 days to fledge, so these chicks
have at least another four weeks to go, being raised on the
island’s only and very busy highway. They will have to
learn not to forage or play in the traffic.
What are their chances?
“It will be a nice surprise if they fledge,” says Muiznieks.
one is suggesting that oystercatchers need to nest next to a highway or
that close to vehicles and people. The little chicks are still in
great danger from passing vehicles.
it does make you wonder what all the fuss about ORVs and expanded
buffers is about. After all, these birds were extremely tolerant
of passing traffic but not of pedestrians. Yet, the consent decree
allows pedestrians access, in some cases, that ORVs don’t have.
as you drive along Highway 12 near Sandy Bay, slow down and help the
chicks of the little oystercatchers that could fly away.
May 19, 2008
Dodging the bullet on Memorial Day weekend
The Memorial Day
weekend on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore was not the train wreck
that many of us expected. It was not the perfect storm of record
high gas prices and unprecedented beaches closures coming together to
create an unhappy weekend for visitors and islanders.
It was, well, like any other holiday weekend on Hatteras and Ocracoke.
The beaches were
crowded, but only one area was overcrowded enough to restrict ORV
access – and that was on Bodie Island for about an hour on Sunday
Bodie Island spit was
deserted. Several folks commented to us that it was really
strange to drive over the Bonner Bridge at Oregon Inlet and not see an
ORV on the beach. The area open to ORVs was north of the inlet,
out of sight of the bridge.
The folks who came
seemed pleased enough with access they had and had a good time on the
beach. “It was crowded but civil,” my neighbors said
about Sunday afternoon on South Beach in Frisco with their visiting
One person who contacted
The Island Free Press was unhappy with Memorial Day afternoon closures
at Ramp 30 north of Avon. According to the National Park Service,
an area south of Ramp 30 was closed for American oystercatcher breeding
behavior. However, the Park Service says about 450 meters of the
beach near Ramp 23 was re-opened on Monday because American
oystercatchers abandoned the area.
The National Park
Service says that there was no more rowdiness and no more violations
than it sees on any holiday weekend – despite the new
restrictions on beach access and night driving.
And business owners we
surveyed were not doing cartwheels about weekend business, but most
said they had done all right and were relieved that the disaster that
many feared had not happened.
helped. Though it was rainy and cool on Saturday morning, the sun
came out and the rest of the weekend was warm and sunny.
Click Here To View Slideshow of Aerial Photos of Memorial Day on the Beaches
On the beaches
The National Park
Service will have more information on vehicle counts and violations
later in the week, but the initial indications are that there were
fewer vehicles than last Memorial Day weekend and that violations were
no more than usual.
Under the terms of a
consent decree that was signed April 30 and that settled a lawsuit over
ORV use on the seashore, closures to protect shorebirds are larger than
ever before. Large areas of the popular beaches at Bodie Island
spit, Cape Point, Hatteras Inlet, and South Point of Ocracoke are
closed to vehicles and to people.
So going into the weekend, it was apparent that more vehicles would be squeezed into smaller areas of the seashore beach.
Last year, the Park
Service began “spot counts” of vehicles on the
beaches. The numbers don’t show a cumulative daily total,
but rather reflect only the number on the beach at the time of the spot
There were fewer vehicles on the beach this year.
Take one example of Ramp
49 out to the South Beach in Frisco, a favorite of many visitors. There
were several fewer miles of beach open to ORVs. It was crowded,
but everyone found a place to set up for the day, and at mid-afternoon
there were some spaces available for additional vehicles.
Last year on the
Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, the spot count was 504
vehicles. This year, it was 308 on Saturday. That was
probably influenced by the rainy and cool start to the day. On
Sunday last year, there were about the same number – 500 or so
vehicles – and this year there were 429 on Sunday afternoon.
Jon Anglin, a law
enforcement supervisor and the Park Service’s incident command
supervisor on the team that is overseeing the special circumstances of
reduced beach access on the seashore, said before the weekend that he
wasn’t sure that the seashore could accommodate the usual volume
of holiday visitors with the reduced space on the beach.
The Park Service made
plans to close or reduce traffic on some beaches if there were
“unsafe” conditions, such as overcrowding.
“I think it, all
in all, was a very successful weekend,” Anglin said on Memorial
Day. “In many ways, it’s been very calm…I am
The only area where
overcrowding was an issue was at Bodie Island, where access to the spit
was totally closed and vehicles were crowded into a much reduced area
of the beach. For about an hour on Sunday, access at Ramp 4 was
reduced to “one on and one off.” Vehicles were made
to wait until a vehicle left the beach.
The Park Service has a
full contingent of its own rangers on duty this week and 11 additional
rangers from other parks as part of a “special events team.”
Anglin said there were
the “normal issues” of a holiday weekend and lots of
visitors – DUI charges, under-age drinking, and open containers
in vehicles. There were a “handful” of incidents of
ORVs in closed areas, most notably at Ramps 23 and 27, and a few
instances of pedestrians in resource protection areas.
Compliance with the ban on night driving, Anglin said, was “very good.”
There were some
complaints about “police state” tactics by the Park
Service. Frank Folb of Frank and Fran’s tackle shop in
Avon, said several folks who came into his store didn’t like the
way they had been treated for not understanding access issues.
However, some other folks were complimentary of the park rangers, who
they though were much more visible and fair.
Passing the Word
Jon Anglin attributed much of the weekend’s success to education about the new closures and ORV rules.
“A lot of people in the community were passing the word about the closures and about not violating them,” he said.
A small Army of
volunteers manned the seashore ramps and planted themselves in front of
island stores to hand out flyers with beach access information.
One of the volunteers
was Tom Woods, owner of Island Hide-A-Way Campground in
Buxton. He and his twin daughters and their cousin worked the
parking lot at Food Lion on Sunday morning. He says he handed out 400
flyers by lunchtime to visitors and that 95 percent of them were
unaware of the new restrictions on beach access. Woods went home
to have lunch and then was back in the afternoon to hand out more
Karen Orzechowski, who
lives in Maryland but was visiting her mother’s home in Frisco,
and her daughters, Sally and Jeannie Jankovic handed out flyers at Ramp
49 in Frisco.
of the flyers by the Save Our Beaches group was paid for mostly by
donations, and many off-island regular visitors helped organize the
the printing done, and get permits from the Park Service to hand out
material. Many shops also printed out copies for their customers.
The Park Service did
post a sign at ramps, noting that the folks passing out the flyers were
“exercising their First Amendment Constitutional rights”
and that the park “neither sponsors nor endorses these
The flyer was
informational, though there were statements that the environmental
groups that filed the ORV lawsuit resulting in the consent decree would
not agree with – such as the part that says there is no
scientific basis for the closures and that the birds being protected
are not endangered and that only the piping plover is listed as
At Cape Point
Cape Point, which many
call the most famous surf fishing site on the East Coast, is almost
totally shut down. Ramp 43 to the beach near the Point is a
cul-de-sac, and at nearby Ramp 44, there is only .2 of a mile of beach
open to ORVs.
Point is open but a closure for breeding or territorial behavior by
American oystercatchers blocks the path of ORVs and pedestrians to the
beloved fishing and recreation area.
A spot check on Sunday
afternoon of that weekend found just 41 cars at Ramps 43 and 44,
compared to about 426 last year from the ramps out to the Point –
Tackle shop owners agree
that the visitors who did not come this weekend were the serious surf
anglers who knew that the prime fishing areas at Oregon Inlet, Cape
Point, Hatteras Inlet, and Ocracoke’s South Point were closed.
there were still some folks fishing the Point over the
holiday. They were required by the closures to walk in the
water for a distance and then stay on the sand below another closure
out to the Point. And, of course, if you want to fish, you have to haul
your equipment with you. It’s a serious hike.
About mid-day on Sunday,
Danny Jones and his family from Cana, Va., were returning from their
trip to the point. Along with Jones were his brother, James, his
wife, Tiffany, and his children Nathaniel and Faith.
was pulling a cart with a cooler and other equipment. His brother
carried more supplies. Nathaniel had a rod slung over his
shoulder. Tiffany had more rods over her shoulder, and Faith
brought up the rear, wrapped in a towel.
Danny Jones said the
family has been coming to Hatteras for about 10 years. They come about
seven times a year and stay in a motel.
Jones said he keeps in
touch with Dillon’s Corner tackle shop and knew of the closures,
but he didn’t realize the extent until they arrived here on
Thursday before the weekend.
“I was kind of shocked,” Jones said.
The Jones family had walked out to the Point to fish every day.
walk by itself isn’t bad,” Danny Jones said.
“It’s just the equipment that wears you out.”
caught bluefish and skates on Sunday and had caught a big flounder on
Saturday. And Faith had carried back “50 pound of conch
shells.” Or maybe they just felt that heavy. Jones said
they would be back out to fish in the evening.
His wife was less enthusiastic.
“It’s a long walk,” Tiffany Jones said, “and, if you ask me it’s kind of pointless.”
Coming back from Cape
Point right behind the Jones family were Pete and Robin Jorlett, who
live in Newport News and have a trailer in a Buxton campground, which
they visit periodically over the winter and where they spend most of
the summer. They have been coming since the 1970s, and are
retired now. They knew about the beach access issues but will come to
On that day, they
didn’t catch any fish, but Robin picked up some nice
shells. They were philosophical about having to hike to their
favorite spot on the beach.
environmental groups) don’t surprise me with what they do in the
name of nature,” Pete said. “It’s ridiculous
and uncalled for. Their press releases are just twisted
facts…..They’re very powerful because they have so much
The final numbers
aren’t in yet, but a survey of about a dozen businesses on Memorial Day, found most of them
were satisfied, if not enthusiastic, about their holiday business.
Visitation this weekend
was definitely down – looking at counts of vehicles on the beach,
cars in Park Service access areas, traffic on the highway, and accounts
from business owners.
But it was no where near
what businesses feared would happen if high gas prices and beach
closures combined to keep visitors away in droves. That did not
Tackle shops were down
by the largest percentages because of the large closures of popular
fishing areas. Other business owners said they were okay about
the weekend, especially considering that they feared that more visitors would stay away.
Frank Folb at Frank and Fran’s tackle shop in Avon said he
thought it was a “good” weekend on Hatteras, even though he
thinks there were fewer folks here and his business was down. His
gross profits, he said, were down 20 percent from last year’s
holiday. Sales, he said, were down 17 percent, and fishing
licenses were down 31 percent.
Dave Hissey at Pelican’s Roost tackle shop at Teach’s Lair
Marina in Hatteras village also reported a “good”
weekend. “A lot of people didn’t come,” Hissey
said. “People who didn’t know (about the closures came),
and those who did know didn’t come.” But he said there was
an increase in boat traffic and sales for offshore bait and tackle.
Alan Sutton at Tradewinds Tackle on Ocracoke said many of their
“good, long-term customers” didn’t come because of
the beach closures. “It was disappointing,” he said.
However, he said Ocracoke was “packed,” and his shop did
well selling bait and tackle to families and casual fishermen.
Bryan Perry, who owns Frisco Shopping Center and Frisco Rod and Gun,
said he thinks there were not as many visitors on the island as on past
Memorial Day weekends. With stores located right near Ramp 49 in
Frisco, Perry gets business from the Park Service’s Frisco
Campground and folks heading out the Frisco Ramp and heading to
Hatteras Inlet. He said his gasoline and grocery sales are his main
indications and that gas was down about 30 percent and groceries about
20 to 25 percent. However, he wasn’t totally unhappy with his
business on the holiday since he said offshore anglers spent money on
bait and tackle. He said he was amazed at the people
“rolling in who hadn’t heard about closures.”
Jane Metacarpa at the Sandbar and Grille in Buxton said her weekend
business was about even with last year and she “was not
complaining.” Friday night she said was down, Saturday
night was even, and Sunday night was up.
Beth Bailey of Risky Business Seafood in Avon and Hatteras said she was
“quite pleased” with the weekend. “It may have
been a little bit under last year, but given gas prices and beach
closures, I think it was a pretty good weekend,” she
said. She said on Memorial Day she had better numbers at
the Avon store than last year.
• Many of the motels and campgrounds were filled for the weekend.
Some business owners
noted that they don’t think this year was a good gauge of the
effect of beach closures, since so many visitors didn’t realize
what was going on until they got here. Next year, they said, will
tell the story.
The Marine and Memorial Day
Day is the traditional beginning of the summer tourist season for many
of us, especially on Hatteras and Ocracoke. However, the holiday
was established to remember those who have lost their lives fighting
for the country and who are serving today to protect our freedoms.
So, it is fitting that we end this column with how Hatteras Island welcomed Marine Sgt. Jamie Pugh on this weekend.
Pugh, 31, is a 12-year veteran of the Marines who grew up in Richmond and has been coming to Hatteras since he was a youngster.
He returned in February
after a nine-month deployment to Iraq as a heavy equipment operator,
stationed at Camp Lejeune, south of Hatteras.
“The last 45 days
that I was in Iraq,” Pugh says, “the only computer sites I
was on were about Hatteras.”
He checked out fishing reports, weather, and accommodations, looking forward to a Memorial Day fishing trip.
He and his wife, Lisa,
and their children, Alyssa, 3, and Trinity, 2, planned to travel from
their home in Wilmington to Hatteras on Saturday of the Memorial Day
weekend and to go out to Cape Point to fish all night and return on
Pugh said he knew little
or nothing about the beach closures until he stopped for ice at 8:30 on
Saturday night and a clerk told him that the beaches were now closed to
ORVs after 10 p.m. By that time, most campgrounds were full, but
someone put Pugh in touch with Tom Woods at Buxton’s Island
Woods had no space
available, but he invited the Marine and his family to pitch a tent in
his yard for as long as they wanted to stay.
Woods said he did it because the story of the Marine and his family without a place to go “tugged at my heart”
accept any payment, and he said several other campers came to him and
offered to pay the costs for the night’s stay for the Pugh family.
Jamie Pugh says his
family had a great evening at the Buxton campground and headed to the
beach north of Avon for a day of fishing. The beach was crowded,
he said, but the family had a good time. He caught a few spot and
The Pugh family packed up Sunday evening to go home to Fayetteville.
The Marine was impressed
with Hatteras hospitality. He’s been invited to bring the
family back for July 4 and says he intends to come.
May 19, 2008
Closures and Camaraderie
It was Tuesday, May 6, and Ken Cooper of Charlotte, N.C., was an unhappy visitor. In fact, he was distraught.
On Monday, May 5, just five days after the consent decree was signed by
U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle, three popular areas were
closed at the height of the spring fishing season – Bodie Island
spit, Cape Point, and South Point on Ocracoke..
the areas were closed that afternoon, Cooper and some of his friends
were fishing at the Point when National Park Service rangers told them
that they would have to leave.
“They weren’t ugly,” he said. “They just said that we had 10 minutes to leave the beach.”
Cooper, 59, said he has been visiting Hatteras since he was a boy.
“My dad brought me out here when I was a kid, just like his father brought him here.”
Now he said he comes to Hatteras to fish at Cape Point about six times
a year. Each spring since 1972, he and 20 or more friends meet at
Hatteras for several weeks of fishing.
“We’ve all watched each other grow old,” he said.
Some of his friends left early after Cape Point was closed.
Another group was due to arrive that night to get the bad news.
“I work 80 hours a week so I could come out here,” Cooper
said, “and they do this….These people (environmental
groups) who are doing this are totally selfish, thinking only of
“And we love the birds as much as they do,” Cooper added.
Cooper and his fishing companions had joined a group of local avid surf
anglers who gathered along the roped-off area to commiserate and make a
silent protest of sorts – their fishing rods, in sand spikes,
were lined up along the closure.
The group started arriving first thing in the morning with a cooker in
tow. Steve Groves slow cooked the pork and chicken, which
everyone, local or not, who joined the group was invited to
enjoy. Others had contributed baked beans and cole slaw and
desserts. A donation jar sat on the table for anyone who wanted
to contribute to Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance for legal
fees to keep the beaches open to ORVs.
Among them were Pat and Jim Weston of Avon. Pat brought chocolate cake.
She was there she said because “this is my life.”
The couple bought a home on Hatteras in 1996, and have lived here full time since 1999. They love surf fishing.
“This is our retirement. This is our dream,” Pat said
as she looked over the closed-off expanse of beach that blocked access
to Cape Point.
Will negotiated rulemaking survive?
On Thursday, May 8, members of the negotiated rulemaking committee and
their alternates, who are working on a long-term rule for ORV use on
the seashore, made a field trip to Cape Point to see the closures.
The committee had meetings May 8 and 9 in Nags Head. Despite the gray,
windy, drizzly evening, several dozen members of the committee made the
trip to Cape Point, and they were joined by some islanders and visitors
who happened to be on the beach and wanted to know what the gathering
of vehicles and people was about.
One of them was Ray Williams, 73, of Buxton who was out at Ramp 44
“just looking at the water” with his great-grandson,
Nathaniel, who is 8.
“You want to remember this when you get older,” Williams
told the boy. “They are taking the beach away from us.
“My dad told me,” Williams continued, “that one of
these days, I’d see the beach closed, and it has come to
Seashore superintendent Mike Murray and biotechnician Doug McGill explained the closures and answered questions.
Several committee members had large scopes or binoculars to view the birds and shared the views with some of the onlookers.
The environmental groups that brought the lawsuit over ORV access
– Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society –
and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), which represented
them in the legal action, are members of the negotiated rulemaking
That fact rankles some of the beach access groups on the committee.
They feel that the environmental groups involved in the lawsuit are not
negotiating in good faith or not adhering to the ethical and conflict
of interest requirements for committee members.
The groups and their SELC attorney say the criticism is unwarranted --
that the lawsuit targeted only the Park Service’s interim plan to
protect wildlife until the committee negotiates a long-range rule for
ORVs. The lawsuit was necessary, they say, because the Park
Service has neglected ORV rulemaking for too long and that populations
of shorebirds and sea turtles are suffering in the meantime.
The ORV access groups counter that the environmental folks have already
negotiated significant concessions in the consent decree, such as a
night-time driving ban from May 1-Nov. 15, and, therefore, have little
or no incentive to negotiate anything less at the table.
The lawsuit has caused significant tension since the negotiated
rulemaking committee began its official meetings in January.
Last week at a meeting with reporters, Murray confirmed that he
had received requests from five different individuals to dismiss some
or all of the environmental groups involved in the lawsuit off the
Although Murray is the designated federal official on the committee, he
said that the decision to boot any committee members will be a
“policy decision” that won’t be handled at his level.
Negotiated rulemaking committee members are appointed by the Secretary
of the Department of the Interior and decisions about committee
membership will be made in consultation with the DOI ethics office and
its lawyers, Murray said.
The committee is required by law to have a balanced membership that reflects all stakeholders in the beach access issue.
“You can’t stack the deck in favor of one side or another,” he said.
Murray said the request to dismiss one or more of the environmental
groups will be discussed by the DOI’s ethics officials and its
lawyers. Any decision will be made by the highest levels in the
If one or all three of the environmental groups were to be dismissed
from the committee, they would have to be replaced by other groups
representing like interests. Those new members would have to be
vetted and appointed by the Department of Interior secretary, a process
that could take up to six months.
And time is one thing that the negotiated rulemaking process does not have on its side.
Under the terms of the consent decree, the Park Service must complete
its ORV management plan by Dec. 31, 2010, and publish the final Special
Regulation by April 1, 2011.
Given that the committee has been moving along slower than a lumbering
sea turtle on the beach, a six-month or more delay to replace committee
members could be a fatal blow to the negotiation process.
Murray said last week that he hopes that the request to dismiss
committee members will be settled by the next meeting, which will be
June 18-19 at the Comfort Inn Oceanfront South in Nags Head.
Storms and Survival
Just a week after resource protection areas were established at Bodie
Island, Cape Point, and South Point of Ocracoke, a coastal storm
spinning around offshore sent heavy winds, big waves, and high tides
toward the seashore.
Tidal flooding surged over beaches where colonial waterbirds and
shorebirds were courting and scraping, which is apparently practice for
setting up a household in a nice sandy neighborhood.
On Tuesday, May 13, at Cape Point, waves were breaking over the sandy
beaches where just the week before a colony of least terns had staked
out their territory. The nice, sandy area wasn’t nearly as
welcoming as the shorebreak moved over it.
The photographs that accompany this news item were taken by Don Bowers
on May 13 at Cape Point, both on the ground and in the air. They show
overwash and closure signs taken down by the surf.
However, the storm did not bring an end to any of the recent beach closures.
The closure between Ramp 44 and the Point – and other areas where
birds were exhibiting breeding behavior -- will stay closed for
now. The closure can be removed if the area is
“abandoned,” which means no bird activity for two weeks.
If a nest is washed out, the area will remain closed for two to three weeks to see if the birds will re-nest.
According to the Park Service, 12 least tern nests were lost in the
storm tide – six on Bodie Island and six at Cape Point.
Four American oystercatcher nests were lost plus one egg laid outside a
nest. Nine oystercatcher nests survived – including one
north of Buxton, one at Cape Point, one on South Beach, one at Sandy
Bay, one at Hatteras Inlet, and one on south Ocracoke.
All five piping plover nests survived the storm – three at Cape
Point and two on the South Point of Ocracoke. Also last week,
breeding pairs of piping plovers were seen at Hatteras Inlet and Bodie
Trouble for popular fishing program
The Cape Hatteras Anglers Club informed the National Park Service on
May 15 that its "Take Me Fishing" volunteer members voted to suspend
their participation in the program because of “excessive beach
This program has been one of the most popular at the Cape Hatteras
National Seashore for many years. More than 1,500 youngsters
participated last summer, according to an Anglers Club media release.
“The irreparable damage to the economy and livelihoods of the
people of Hatteras and Ocracoke islands cannot be condoned by the Cape
Hatteras Anglers Club,” President Larry Hardham said.
“We stand with all citizens who oppose restrictions on free and
open beach access.”
“Regrettably, this is one of the problems we see in this
transition period under the consent decree,” said Cyndy Holda,
assistant to the superintendent and community liaison for the Park
Service. “They are a long-standing partner, and we hope they will
Holda said the “Let’s Go Fishing” program will
continue in some manner. The program has already been listed in
the “In the Parks” newspaper, which is printed and about to
be distributed to visitor centers. The start may be delayed, she said,
or it may not happen every week.
“The program is too valuable to the National Park Service to drop
it,” Holda said. “They (the youngsters) are the future
generation who will fish on the beach – whether by ORVs or by
walking over the dunes.”
Night driving permits
Under the terms of the consent decree, driving on seashore beaches is
prohibited from May 1 until Nov. 15. From Sept 16 through Nov.
15, night driving will be allowed – by permit only.
Seashore superintendent Mike Murray said last week at a meeting with
reporters that the permits will be ready by Sept. 15. There will
be no fee, and there will be no limit on the number of permits.
The reason for the permit, Murray said, is beach-driver education.
By Sept. 15, the bird nesting season has ended, but there are still sea
turtle nests on the seashore. Turtle hatchlings move toward
brightness, which normally would be the bright, white breaking waves on
the darker ocean. However, the small turtles can be led astray by
car headlights or even lights left on all night in oceanfront
cottages. (Visitors, please keep your outside lights off at
night. Do not leave them on all night.)
Drivers who apply for the permits will receive educational materials
with basic information about such issues as not leaving headlights on
and what kind of lighting to use if they are fishing at night. –
flashlights with small beams and lanterns with low light levels.
“It will be a simple process,” Murray said, adding that the Park Service recognizes the importance of night fishing.
Can you get there from here?
Since areas of the beach were closed to ORVs and pedestrians on May 5,
fishermen have stood along the rope closures and gazed longingly at
their favorite fishing spots in the distance.
This is especially evident at Cape Point, where an area of the beach
between Ramp 44 and the Point is closed. There is another closure
to the southwest of the Point.
The result is Cape Point is open but you can’t get there from the
east or from the west. And, of course, this causes a good deal of
frustration with both locals and visitors during the spring fishing
Many have asked questions about getting to Cape Point, and other
inaccessible but open areas, by boat or by walking in the water.
You can do this, the Park Service says. Its jurisdiction ends at the
mean low water mark. But park officials advise that you don’t try
it without some savvy about the local waters, knowledge of the closed
areas, and some strength and fortitude.
Rob Alderman, and ORV access advocate who runs the Hatteras Island
Fishing Militia Web site (www.fishmilitia.com) and who created
the cable television show, “Outer Banks Angler,” has
kayaked and walked to the Point since the closures went into effect.
Boaters, he says, should be aware that the ocean currents near the
Point can be treacherous. And, he says, walking in the water is
not “for the faint of heart.” It can be a strenuous
“If you catch it at the wrong tide,” he says, “you
could have a disaster if you end up walking in waist-deep water or more
with currents and stepping in holes.”
Furthermore, the Park Service warns that you should embark on such a
trip with good knowledge of the closure locations. If you come
ashore in a closed area – in a boat or on foot – you can
expect to be ticketed for the violation, even if you are forced onto
the shore by weather or currents.
If you are considering getting to the Point by boat or walking, you
should be aware that there are three piping plover nests in the
vicinity. The eggs could be hatching soon, which would mean an
immediate 1,000 meter closure (about 11 football fields). That
will probably close Cape Point to any access.
The superintendent reflects on the decree
At a meeting with reporters last week, seashore superintendent Mike
Murray talked about the consent decree and how it differs from the
interim management plan.
“Since the consent decree was signed,” he said, “it’s been challenging.”
There are many questions to be answered and the park is trying to get
its operations up to speed. Buffers around the areas where birds
are breeding or nesting must be installed more quickly. The
buffers are larger, and the decree calls for more monitoring of the
“Under the interim plan, we had more discretion,” Murray
said. “Under the consent decree, the buffers are
In other words, under the interim plan, park staff could, if they
thought it was feasible, allow access around closed areas. Under
the consent decree, the buffers are the buffers, and that’s that.
“A downside to the consent decree,” Murray said, “is
that it is unpredictable where the birds will be. The impact is
that access is unpredictable.”
Most all of the birds are here now, Murray said, but they are still moving around.
“Once they pick a spot, we may be able to open a few
areas,” he said. That might include instances in which the
birds are using two areas for pre-nesting behavior.
It’s still early in the nesting season, he said, and closures are happening quickly.
In mid to late July, Murray added, the trend will be reversed as more
beaches are opened to ORVs and pedestrians. The nesting season
for shorebirds ends toward the end of August, which will open many
areas now closed.
Murray acknowledged that the consent decree is more restrictive during
the breeding season, but he noted that the alternative -- closing
popular areas year-round – would have been even more unacceptable
to many islanders and visitors.
He added that the Park Service is struggling with communications, since
“everything happens more quickly.” Park officials are
working on maps that would be available online that would have
up-to-date information on resource closures and areas that are open to
ORVs and/or pedestrians. Those maps could be available in about a
week or so.
“One of the issues in the consent decree,” he said,
“is that it’s an abrupt change in what we were doing, and,
therefore, an abrupt change in access….It’s good for the
birds, but tough for access.”
In the long-term ORV rule, Murray said, he wants access to be more predictable.
“This summer,” he said, “will be a challenging and unpredictable learning experience.”
And that goes for all of us – park staff, islanders, and visitors.