Beach Access and Park Issues
July 29,  2009

Cape Point re-opens to vehicles


Before noon this morning, the members of the Gentry and Clark families from the Charlottesville, Va. area – about 75 of them – were set up on the beach at Cape Point.

And they were thrilled to be there.

John Gentry said he had been driving out Ramp 44 several times a day this week to see if ORV access to the Point had been restored.

Each day he had been disappointed.

Finally, this morning some of the family members got a call from back home in Charlottesville that the caller had seen on a tackle shop chat board that the Point was again accessible to ORVs.

Interesting how information gets around in the online world!

The National Park Service opened the east access from Ramp 44 to Cape Point early this morning.

Before noon, there were scores of trucks lining the shoreline out to the Point.

Cape Point has been closed to ORVs – and at times to pedestrians – since mid-April under the terms of a consent decree that was signed by a federal judge and settled a lawsuit against the National Park Service by environmental groups.

Some of the closures to protect nesting birds involved the piping plover, which is listed as threatened by the federal government.  However, most closures were to protect other species, such as American oystercatchers and least terns, which are not protected by the federal government but are listed as species of special concern by the state of North Carolina.

The National Park Service opened a pedestrian access corridor to Cape Point on Friday, July 17, but kept the areas closed to ORVs until today because of American oystercatcher chicks that had fledged but continued to be protected.

According to a Park Service press release on July 17, the piping plover chicks in the area had fledged, but “access to the Point has remained closed due to a resource protection closure for American oystercatcher (AMOY) chicks south of Ramp 44.”

“The AMOY chicks, which are provided a 200 meter buffer under the consent decree, have now fledged and the access corridor has reopened to pedestrian access,” the release said. “Because young AMOY fledglings are relatively big birds and weak flyers, and are less capable of getting out of the way of moving vehicles or pets off leash than are the fledglings of smaller shorebird species, there is a two-week waiting period after AMOY chicks fledge before an area is re-opened to ORVs or pets.”

Island residents and visitors were unhappy that they had to wait another 12 days for ORV access to the Point.

However, today has been a day of celebration for them and for island businesses, who believe they have suffered economic losses because of the closure of the popular Cape Point area.

And it is indeed amazing how quickly the word spread that Cape Point was again open.

Some locals took a trip to the Point just because they could do it again.  But most of the license plates of the trucks on the beach today were from out-of-state.

They were folks like the Gentry and Clark families from Virginia.

Today, the Gentrys and Clarks were set up on the Cape Point beach with many trucks, adults, and children – brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and cousins.

Cape Point is, according to Shelia Gentry, a favorite place for the family to just hang out.  She said her husband has been coming to the area since he was a child, and that three generations of their family are now involved in the summer reunion. Shelia and John Gentry have a blended family with a total of 27 grandchildren between her children and his.

“’We always come the same week,” Gentry said.  “There are about 75 of us now, but there used to be about 150.”

The others, she said, stopped coming because of the beach closures that started when the consent decree became effective in the spring of last year.  The other family members, she said, just didn’t want to commit to cottage rentals when they were unsure what beaches would be open.

Some members of the family have kept on coming and renting cottages, though Gentry said the current situation “doesn’t make us happy.”

“These birds are not even endangered,” she said. “There are people from all over the country who come here for the relaxation. We have to work and keep this country going.”

And it is clear that the Gentrys don’t like being displaced by birds that are not even federally listed.

Shelia made a point of noting that the family group members are good stewards of the beach and support natural resource protection. She said many members of the group visit the area three or four times a year.

Every truck had a trash bag attached.  Shelia said she thought there was more trash on the beach this year and that all members of the group pick it up. No children are allowed to feed the gulls and are well instructed in beach behavior.

The family was clearly enjoying their first day at Cape Point.  There were playpens and pools and other “corrals” for the young children. Other children were running through the shorebreak. The adults were visiting and watching the fishing going on around them.  They all like to fish and said they would get to it eventually – maybe after horseshoes and bocce ball.

This morning there were kids of all ages playing in the sand and adults visiting with each other.  Shelia Gentry was sitting in a chair next to her step-daughter, Jennifer Gentry Tomlin, who had a cast covered in a plastic bag on one leg and was minding her 1-year-old son, Chayce.
Many groups were just hanging out like the Gentrys.  But there were also some serious fishermen eager to get back to the most famous fishing area on the East Coast.

The area west of Cape Point toward Ramp 49 in Frisco is still closed to protect nesting birds.

According to a Park Service media release, “Under the consent decree, the pre-nesting areas are to remain in place “until the later of July 15 or two weeks after the last chicks within the area have fledged, as determined by two consecutive monitoring events.”  Other closures, outside of the pre-nesting closures that were established based on observed shorebird breeding behavior, are to remain in place, depending upon the circumstances, until at least two weeks after a nest is lost to see if the birds re-nest, or until all chicks have fledged.

Colonial waterbird nests and chicks and American oystercatcher chicks are still present west of Cape Point and in the eastern portion of South Beach. The pre-nesting areas and other resource protection areas that were established in these locations earlier in the season will remain posted until nesting and chick rearing activity is completed and the prescribed reopening criteria have been met. 

Driving on the beach is still prohibited between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.


 Comments are always welcomed!

     Subject :

     Name :  (required)

     Email :  (required, will not be published)

     City :   (required)    State :   (required)

     Your Comments:

May be posted on the Letters to the Editor page at the discretion of the editor.