Beach Access Issues
May 22, 2008

Memorial Day visitors will face unprecedented beach closures

Islanders and visitors headed to Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches this Memorial Day weekend will see unprecedented areas of beach closed for shorebirds and will probably see unprecedented closures of ramps to popular areas of the beach, including Cape Point and Bodie Island spit.

The National Park Service is planning for handling the usual holiday weekend crowds in much less space under the terms of a court-ordered consent decree that settled a lawsuit by environmental groups against the park over ORV use on the beaches.  That, combined with a forecast of good weather for all three days, could mean problems for both park officials and seashore visitors.

The Park Service said in a media release today that it is “anticipating that some very short-term, temporary changes to ORV beach access may be required to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit to the seashore.”

That is probably an understatement. Park officials and beach access advocates say that the park is looking at its first-ever shutdown of ramps to ORVs, other than for storms or other tidal flooding.

“We cannot accommodate the volume that will be down here this weekend,” said Jon Anglin, the Park Service’s incident command supervisor on the team that is overseeing the special circumstances of reduced beach access on the seashore.

“We’re doing what we can to plan for it,” Anglin said.  “Our plan is to be flexible and open and hopefully we can find a place for everyone to go…but, yes, we are going to be short on space.” 

However, Cyndy Holda, assistant to seashore superintendent Mike Murray and the park’s community liaison, said that rumors of the National Guard coming to the seashore to help with any ramp closures that are necessary are nothing but “vicious rumors.”

“It looks as bad as it can get to me,” said Frank Folb of Frank and Fran’s tackle shop in Avon. “I could be wrong.  However, I have never seen anything in my life like this, and I never thought I would.”

“I’m going to sit back here and do my best to stay calm,” said Bob Eakes of Red Drum Tackle Shop. “I don’t even have a clue what might happen.”

Since the consent decree was implemented on April 30, buffers for not only nesting birds but also birds exhibiting pre-nesting or territorial behavior have increased and have quickly expanded, closing down expanses of seashore beaches to ORVs and often to pedestrians. Almost every day, new areas are closed to ORVs – and pedestrians – and/or closed areas are expanded.

Up and down the seashore, ORV ramps have become little more than cul-de-sacs where ORVs can go to the beach, turn around, and come back – with no room for those who want to park  to fish or enjoy other recreation.

“I think it’s going to be a zoo,” said Larry Hardham, president of the Cape Hatteras Anglers Club.  “The three most popular places in the seashore are slam shut.”

The three areas of most concern are Bodie Island Spit, Cape Point, and South Point of Ocracoke, all popular with seashore visitors.

A fraction of the beach usually open to ORVs and even pedestrians has survived the increased buffers for bird pre-nesting and nesting.

For instance, at Cape Point, birds have closed down all but about .2 of a mile of beach at Ramp 44.  Vehicles can go out the ramp, but can go only .1 mile north or .1 mile south.

It won’t take long for that beach to fill up with vehicles this holiday weekend.

At Bodie Island, only about 2.5 miles are open to ORVs, and on Ocracoke, the very popular South Point on Ocracoke is almost entirely closed.

 The Park Service is ready to close ramps if “unsafe” conditions develop. 

Anglin said that park officials have no formula for how many vehicles will be allowed on the beaches, but he and Holda say that there will be “triggers” that will lead to ramp closures.

They include vehicles backing up to get on or off the ramp or blocking roadways, vehicles getting stuck, violations of natural resource closure areas, or disorderly conduct.

Anglin said that all park law enforcement rangers will be on duty this weekend, along with a “special events team” of 11 additional rangers who will be at the seashore for all or part of the weekend to help police the ramps and beaches. 

If ramps must be closed, Anglin said, rangers will try to direct vehicles to other areas that are open.  That could be challenging.  From Buxton south on Hatteras Island, for example, only about six miles of ocean beach is open to ORVs.  That includes about three miles east and west of Ramp 49 in Frisco and almost three miles along the ocean beach at Hatteras Inlet via Ramp 55.

Anglin also said that as conditions on the beach are “mitigated” – meaning they become less congested or more under control – access to the ramps will re-open.

Bob Eakes and Frank Folb and others who deal with visitors say that the closures are going to be difficult for visitors.

“Most of them have no idea,” Folb said about the visitors in his tackle shop, “or they don’t know how bad it is.  Most of them can’t fathom that they can’t go to Cape Point.”

“I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I have a lot of anxiety,” said Dare County Commissioner Allen Burrus of Hatteras about the weekend.

  • Anyone going to the beach this weekend should be familiar with closures before going on the beach.  All closures are posted.  You can also check with park staff at visitor centers or check the beach access report on The Island Free Press on the Beach Access Issues Page.  Maps are also available.
  • You can wade in the water around full beach closures to reach areas that are open, but if you step onto the beach in a closure for any reason, you can be cited for a violation.  You must stay below the mean low water mark in closed areas.
  • The beaches are closed to all ORVs from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m.
  • Speed limits on all beaches have been reduced to 15 mph.
  • Beach bonfires are not allowed after midnight. 
  • Pets must be on leashes of six feet or less.
  • Distilled liquor and fortified wine are prohibited in the park.  No open containers are allowed in vehicles.
  • Fireworks are prohibited at all times on the seashore and on all of Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.
  • Lifeguards will be on duty beginning Saturday, May 24, 9:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. in Buxton (old lighthouse site), Ocracoke Island, and at Coquina Beach on weekends.
  • Check the weather prior to going to the beach.  Watch for rip currents.  If caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore.

For more information, contact the park at 252-473-2111 ext. 148 or check the park Web site at

Also questions and answers about beach access can be found on The Island Free Press.  Click on Beach Access Page and look in the red bar at the top of the page for questions and answers and maps.

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