October 1, 2013

Hatteras and Ocracoke weather first day of seashore


It was a perfect beach day on Hatteras and Ocracoke, but most residents and visitors didn’t get to enjoy it on this first day of a federal government shutdown.

The skies were blue and the temperatures in the mid-70s.  The surf was described by some who got to try it out as “fun,” though the winds were probably a little too calm for kiteboarders and windsurfers.  By all reports those who could fish on the beach – mostly in the villages—were catching them.

The first government shutdown in 17 years has all of the beaches on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge closed to the public. The other parks in the Park Service’s Outer Banks Group – Wright Brothers National Monument and Fort Raleigh National Historic site—as well as other U.S. Fish and Wildlife refuges in Eastern North Carolina were also closed to the public.

The shutdown officially began at 12:01 a.m. and by daylight Park Service personnel were already erecting barricades and chaining ocean and soundside beaches.

Here is what is open and closed on the national seashore:

  • All ramps on the seashore – on the oceanside and the soundside – are chained or blocked.
  • All visitor centers and maintenance and administrative facilities are closed.
  • The road to the Bodie Island Lighthouse is barricaded.  The Lighthouse Road in Buxton is blocked just beyond Flowers Ridge Road.
  • All ORV permit offices are closed.
  • All parking areas on the soundside and the oceanside have been closed and secured – including facilities at Coquina Beach, Ocracoke Day Use Area, Canadian Hole, Kite Point, the Frisco Bathhouse, and Sandy Bay day use area. Also closed and secured are all parking areas at various oceanside ramps on Hatteras and Ocracoke.
  • Campers have until 6 p.m. to leaved the campgrounds.
  • Commercial operations within the seashore are also closed. The Avon Pier closed at noon, and the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center will close at 6 p.m. Thursday. (The Rodanthe Pier remains open because the owners no longer have a Park Service concession since the pier, after erosion, is no long on seashore property.)
  • The three airstrips in the park area will be closed.
  • All National Park Service websites are closed down, and visitors to the sites will get a message about the shutdown.

In Pea Island and other refuges visitor centers are closed and public access is not allowed on the beaches and trails.

In a news release today refuge Manager Mike Bryant explained further, "This means all public uses of these national wildlife refuges cease completely -- no hunting or fishing-- even hunts for which people have been issued special permits, like the Pungo Hunt scheduled for this week.  It means no birdwatching, no walking on the beaches or trails, and no driving to see bears. It means that these federally-owned lands are closed.  The closure also includes Visitor Centers and offices.  For refuge employees, it means no work.  No checking e-mails, no posting on web pages, no management activities, and no public programs -- on or off therefuge.  The few Refuge staff we have working will be limited to activities that protect of life and property or communications internally concerning the closure."

Apparently quite a few visitors were more than a little surprised today when they loaded up their vehicles with fishing gear and bait or surfboards and headed out to the beach.

However, most businesses owners contacted by Island Free Press reported that folks were getting creative about getting to the water, more frustrated with the Congress than the business owners, not happy about the dearth of public information from the Park Service, and willing to stick around and see what happened – at least for now.

Frank Folb of Frank and Fran’s tackle shop in Avon said his day started off pretty well with anglers heading out to the beach, but went downhill quickly by noon when most of them realized they couldn’t get there.

Folb – and other business owners – said they disagreed with the Park Service decision to close down concessions and parking areas.

In fact, he sent seashore Superintendent Barclay Trimble an e-mail this morning to protest both issues.

He got back an out-of-office auto reply.

Unlike many other businesses, Folb said he did encounter some folks who were ready to pack up and leave.

“There were two guys from Cleveland who said they might as well pack up and go home to play around on their boat,” he recounted.

Bryan Perry, an owner of Frisco Rod & Gun and Frisco Market said the stores were busy today, but, he added, as did others, “it will be a problem in a few days or a week.”

Across from the stores, he watched rangers turning folks back at a roadblock to the road to the airport and campground.

“I’m sure there were visitors who didn’t know it was coming, and that’s too bad after they worked for their vacations.

Tina and James Cromer of Winston-Salem were among the visitor caught off-guard when they found out early today that all of the Ocracoke beaches were closed. They were headed into Tradewinds Tackle Shop when they learned they would not be able to fish on the beach.

“Are they going to give us our $50 back?” James asked.

Tina noted that the ORV permit office on Ocracoke had not given them a warning about the possible shut-down.

“This is so (messed) up,” Tina said, adding that they’ve rented a house for a week. “We brought a whole lot of new fishing rods and have a cooler full of bait.  Where can we go to fish here? This is our first time back here in years and we can’t fish.”

Unless they had their own boat or know someone who owns soundside access, Tradewinds owner Alan Sutton was at a loss as to where the Cromers could fish since the entire beach and all of the soundside access not in the village are on National Park Service land.

“People can understand (the beach closures) when there is a hurricane, but there was no notice for this,” Sutton said.

Bob Chestnut, owner of Ride the Wind Surf Shop in Ocracoke, might be getting more customers for kayak tours now that people can’t fish on the beach, but he was frustrated with the turn of events.

“Why can’t we get through a full season without something happening?” he said referring to the last three falls where hurricanes prevented visitors from getting to Ocracoke.

The irony of the fact that we have reached the first of October with a storm caused by Mother Nature and were being closed down by a manmade storm was not lost on the islands’ business people.

A member of an early morning coffee klatch at Ocracoke Coffee, Chestnut said the talk was lively this morning.

“You have your calm heads, your wait-and-seer-ers, and your anarchists, who say, ‘Yippee. There’s no government.’”

Coffee shop owner Justin LeBlanc, who was on the 9 a.m. ferry to Hatteras, observed that if the beaches stay closed, people will cancel their vacations to Ocracoke, which is the major concern.

“I’m among the lucky ones who can go to the beach any time,” noted islander Robin Turner. “But how unfortunate for those here on their vacations and to not be able to utilize the very reason they came.”

Hyde County Commissioner John Fletcher wondered why the NPS has to close the beach if they have (even a few) people working.

But Ed Fuller, district ranger for Ocracoke, said Monday night that seashore officials had to close the beach because they don’t have enough  staff to patrol them.”

Beth Midgett, rental manager of Midgett Realty, said that so far folks were not packing up and going home.

“Some were irate,” she said, “but not with us.”

Midgett Realty and other companies are working with visitors to help them find access to the water, whether at property the companies owned on the sound by some soundside cottages that have deeded access to the ocean beach.

Midgett’s problem with the Park Service, she said, is that “information is king” and park officials need to give businesses more information “before the fact.”

Martha Caldwell reported business as usual today at Island Convenience in Rodanthe, adding that she didn’t think many visitors coming onto the island were aware of the situation.

Scott Busbey of Natural Art Surf Shop said business was okay tonight, but he didn’t want to think about the “ridiculous and stupid” situation continuing for much longer.

He agreed that folks were managing to find water access. In fact, he said he hiked out to the beach at the former site of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and that people were parked along the road before the roadblock and walking out to the beach.  In the time he was there – from about 10:30 until noon – he said “there were as many people on the beach today as there were yesterday.

They were surfing and hanging out and during the time he was there, no rangers tried to run them off.

“I just don’t see why they can’t leave the parking lots open so people can use the beach,” he said.

Trip Forman, an owner of REAL Watersports in Waves said kiters and surfers were finding the situation an inconvenience but were managing to find other points of access to the water, especially in the villages.

The lessons and camps went on as usual today at the REAL compound and guests had no problem getting access.  While he said the REAL property can’t accommodate everyone who wants access, his staff members were doing what they could to provide visitors with information about alternatives.

He agrees with Busbey on allowing visitors access to parking areas.  And, he says, Highway 12 will be jammed with parked vehicles on the next windy day.

As for him, he says his budget is balanced and he’s going surfing in the morning.

(Information for this article was also provided by Connie Leinbach on Ocracoke.)


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