Beach Access Issues
June 4, 2008

Newly hatched piping plover chicks close Ramp 44 and all Point access for now


Ramp 44 to Cape Point was closed this morning because of newly hatched piping plover chicks.

Also, for now, the Park Service has closed pedestrian access to Cape Point.  That situation will be reassessed as soon as park staff can properly mark overlapping bird areas, perhaps in a day or so.

The chicks are from one of two three-egg nests that have been identified at Cape Point. A National Park Service biologist observed one of the chicks yesterday, and park resource staff saw the other two today.

Under the terms of the consent decree that settled a lawsuit by environmental groups over ORV access at the seashore, the park was required to extend the buffer around the nest by 1,000 meters (3,281 or about the length of 11 football fields) in all directions.

That buffer extends past Ramp 44, so that ramp is no longer open to off-road vehicles.

Ramp 43 is still open and ORVs have access to .2 of a mile of beach there. A closure between Ramps 43 and 44 for American oystercatchers exhibiting breeding behavior has been removed.  

Before the closure, ORVs could go out on Ramp 44 to use about .2 of a mile of beach that was open to the south toward the Point before there is a full beach closure for a pair of American oystercatchers exhibiting breeding behavior.  Also, before today, Cape Point was open to pedestrians, who could wade in the water around the oystercatcher closure and hike out to the Point.  Or they could get to the Point by boat, motorized or non-motorized.  A number of folks have been wading or kayaking to get to the popular surf fishing spot.

That will no longer be possible, at least for the time being.

The consent decree does allow for pedestrian access during daylight hours in a narrow corridor that would extend landward 10 meters (33 feet) from the mean high tide line.  However, the pedestrian corridor must be at least 300 meters (984 feet) from the piping plover nest.

In this case, the nest is closer to the water than 300 meters, so there can be no pedestrian corridor along the beach to Cape Point.

There may be some open beach at the tip of Cape Point, but Cyndy Holda, assistant to superintendent and community liaison for the park, said there will be no access by any means until park staff can get to the area and properly measure and mark the overlapping bird closures in the area.

That could happen tomorrow, and at that time, folks may be allowed to launch motorized or non-motorized boats from near Ramp 43 or from the South Beach to get to the area at the Point that is still open.

“The overlapping closures,” Holda said, “compound and complicate our ability to allow access and reduce the amount of open area outside the required buffers of the Consent Decree.”

The consent decree stipulates that the Park Service may modify ORV access within the 1,000 meter buffer two weeks after the chicks hatch -- if a 300 meter buffer is maintained between the chicks and the ORVs.  In this case, the chicks must be monitored from dawn until dusk by park staff in this “modified” area, and ORVs will not be allowed in each day until the location of the chicks is determined and an adequate buffer is in place.

“We will be watching the Cape Point area closely.  We realize what a popular fishing spot it is for many folks,” Holda said.  “NPS monitors will closely watch the movements of plover chicks.  Deliberate violations of the resource closures result in immediate expansion of buffers as required under the Consent Decree.”

When they move to forage, she added, it may be possible to open more beach to ORVs and pedestrians.

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