Beach Access and Park Issues
May 24, 2010

UPDATE…Limited access to Cape Point and Ramp 45 are closed


The National Park Service has closed Ramp 44 to Cape Point to pedestrians, closed the "limited” access by wading in the water or by watercraft to Cape Point, and closed Ramp 45 to off-road vehicles.

The entire area from Ramp 43 to Ramp 45 is now closed to protect piping plovers, American oystercatchers, and least terns.

As of this afternoon, there were 18 piping plover chicks on the beach between Ramps 44 and 45.  There were two eggs left to hatch in one nest, according to Park Service biologist Doug McGee.

“It’s a madhouse out there,” McGee said. “We’re just trying to figure out which (chick) is which.”

The Park Service closed Ramp 44 to off-road vehicles on May 13 when the first of the six plover nests hatched.

At that time there was three-tenths of a mile south of Ramp 44 open to pedestrians.  And the Point itself was open to those strong enough to wade out there below the mean low-tide line or get there by boat, kayak, surfboard or other means over the water.

Ramp 44 is now closed to pedestrians because an American oystercatcher nest between Ramp 43 and 44 has hatched and the chicks are moving around on the beach.

The so-called “limited” access to the Point is closed to both pedestrians and vehicles because of piping plover and American oystercatcher chicks.

And Ramp 45 is closed because of a piping plover nest that hatched to the east of the ramp.

Right now, there is still pedestrian access to Ramp 45 from the parking area in the back of the Cape Point Campground.  Pedestrians can park there and hike out to the beach.

A low pressure area in the Bahamas is forecast to move toward the southeast coast tomorrow with brisk northeast winds and a chance of rain.

McGee said that the chicks should survive “some tide” on the beach at this point, as long as their foraging areas are not flooded.

McGee and Cyndy Holda, the seashore’s public information officer, said that conditions on the beach can change quickly during this time of year– the height of the bird breeding season.

The Park Service issues a weekly Beach Access Report every Thursday throughout the breeding season that briefly summarizes the current status of access in each section of the seashore. These reports are available each week on The Island Free Press website.

The weekly Beach Access Report is complemented by a Google Earth map, which is updated up to five times per week as access conditions change. The latest Google Earth beach access map can be viewed at:

Holda said that the Google Earth map has the most up-to-date information on beach resource closures, though even these maps may lag behind closures for nesting birds or hatched chicks.

The buffers around the bird nesting areas are dictated in a consent decree that settled a lawsuit filed in 2007 against the National Park Service for a lack of an off-road vehicle management plan.

For piping plover chicks, the buffers are 1,000 meters in all directions that are closed to ORV use. The buffer is 300 meters for pedestrians.

Piping plovers are the only federally protected species on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.  The birds are listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The other shorebirds and colonial nesting birds protected by buffers are listed as “species of special concern” by the state.  The state Wildlife Resources Management Commission has said that it never expected these birds to receive the same protection as birds listed as threatened or endangered.

So to review what is open and what is closed near Cape Point:

•    Ramp 43 is open to pedestrians to the north and to ORVs for about four-tenths of a mile to the north of the ramp.

•    The area between Ramp 43 and 44 is closed to ORVs and pedestrians.

•    Ramp 44 is closed to ORVs and pedestrians.

•    Cape Point is closed to ORV and pedestrian access.

•    Ramp 45 is closed to ORVs, but is accessible to pedestrians who park in the back of the Cape Point Campground and walk to the beach.

•    Ramp 49 in Frisco at the South Beach is open for 2.1 miles to the east and west for 1.2 miles.

Another point of interest is that the American oystercatchers that have nested next to Highway 12 in the Sandy Bay area east of Hatteras village are back.  Three chicks have hatched from this nest within sight of the road.  The chicks are 10 days old. In the past, chicks from this nest have been lost to traffic on the highway and other causes.

McGee says it’s a good sign that the chicks have survived for 10 days.

May 14, 2010

Park Service closes Ramp 44 to Cape Point


The National Park Service closed Ramp 44 to Cape Point yesterday when the first of six piping plover nests in the area hatched.

Doug McGee, Park Service biotechnician, said today that the closure of the ramp to ORVs was to protect newly hatched piping plover chicks with the 1,000-meter buffer required in the federal-court sanctioned consent decree, under which the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is being managed until a long term ORV rule is in place.

The first piping plover nest hatched yesterday.  There are four chicks from that nest.

McGee said a second four-egg piping plover nest in the area started hatching today.  By early afternoon, two chicks had hatched and the other two eggs were expected to hatch this afternoon.

Both of those nests, he said, are in the area between Ramp 44 and Cape Point.

Pedestrian access through Ramp 44 to the beach and south toward the Point for three-tenths of a mile – almost to the “Narrows” -- is allowed currently, McGee said.

The consent decree calls for only a 300-meter buffer for pedestrians.

The tip of Cape Point and part of the hook, he said, is not closed.

However, there is no through access for either ORVs or pedestrians.

This is what the Park Service is calling a “limited access area.”  In other words, it is open if you can get there without stepping foot on the beach.

Pedestrians can wade in the water – below the low-tide line – to get to the Point.  Or the area is accessible by boat, kayak, surfboard, etc.

It is not recommended that you try getting to the Point unless you know what you are doing and where the closures are.

Wading below the low-tide mark is difficult on any rough day, and so is accessing the Point by and type of craft.

A boater, kayaker, or walker who is forced by weather or water conditions to come onshore in a resource closure – or who comes onto the beach in a closure by mistake -- is subject to being ticketed by the Park Service.

The four remaining piping plover nests in the Cape Point area are scheduled to hatch between now and May 23.

There have been three nests at South Point on Ocracoke. The eggs in one nest became victims of predation by ghost crabs. Another two-egg nest lost one egg to ghost crabs, and the remaining egg was abandoned. The remaining four-egg nest has a hatch date of about June. 3.

McGee said the piping plover chicks take about 21 to 35 days to fledge. Buffers remain in place until Park Service observers see the chicks flying or until they are 35 days old.

Last year, access to Cape Point was closed on April 14 because of a pair of oystercatchers exhibiting breeding behavior.  About April 30, Ramp 44 was closed entirely because of the courting oystercatchers.  Ramp 44 re-opened on May 10 after the oystercatchers settled down a nest between Ramps 43 and 44. However, there was still no ORV access to the Point.

Cape Point re-opened to ORVs on July 29 of last year.

Other ORV access highlights in the May 13 beach access report are:

•    Seasonal closures went into effect in front the villages, at Coquina Beach, and at several sites on Ocracoke

•    About 3.3 miles are open to ORVs on Bodie Island at Ramp 4.  There was no access to the inlet or the Bait Pond.

•    Ramp 23 south of Salvo is closed.

•    Ramp 27 is open but it is a cul-de-sac.

•    Beach is open about six-tenths of a mile north and eight-tenths of a mile south of Ramp 30.

•    Beach is open eight-tenths of a mile south of Ramp 38.

•    Ramp 43 is a cul-de-sac.

•    Ramp 44 is closed.

•    Ramp 45 is open and is a cul-de-sac.

•    Ramp 49 in Frisco at the South Beach is open for 2.1 miles to the east and west for 1.2 miles.

•    Ramp 55 in Hatteras village is open to ORVs along the ocean beach for about 1.1 miles to the southwest toward the inlet.  There is no ORV or pedestrian access to the inlet.

•    Ramp 59 on Ocracoke’s North Point is closed.

•    Ramp 70 to 72 open for 1.8 miles.

•    Ramp 72 to South Point is open along the ocean shoreline for four-tenths of a mile.

For more details on beach access for ORVs and pedestrians, see the Park Service’s weekly beach access report, also on the Beach Access and Park Issues Page.

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