October 2, 2013

Folks who want to go to the beach during the
shutdown are managing to get there


The second day of the federal government shutdown that has closed all the Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches was another perfect beach day.

And it seemed that plenty of people were managing to get to the beach by finding a place to park, closed or not, and walking over the dunes or through private property.

Technically, all of the ocean beaches and the sound beaches between the villages, owned by the National Park Service, are closed to the public. 

However, park officials have made it clear they won’t try to clear folks off the beaches in the villages.

And although the park has closed and barricaded several oceanside parking areas, some folks were using them anyway – and apparently not getting much of a hassle.

At Sandy Bay parking area just east of Hatteras village and at the Frisco bathhouse, there were a dozen or so cars and folks were carrying chairs out to the beach.

Folks were parking along Lighthouse Road before the barricade and walking to the beach at the old site of the Hatteras Light.  They were also parking along Old Lighthouse Road and hiking across private property to get to the ocean.

There were also cars at the ramp south of Avon and several between Avon and the tri-villages.

The unhappiest visitors were definitely the anglers who come here for the fall fishing and want to load up ORVs with coolers, bait, tackle, rods, and chairs to spend a day on the beach.  There is definitely no ORV access for these folks. And many of them had already bought their $50 permit for the week and saltwater fishing licenses.

Jean Carpenter, Libby Wyont, and Ernest Carpenter are from Bessemer City, N.C.  They have been coming to Hatteras since 1960 nearly every year.

“It was really disappointing.  We planned this trip for a whole year.  We fish and we haven’t really been able to.  It’s been a disappointment,” said Jean Carpenter as the group toured around Hatteras village.

Her husband, Ernest, added, “We paid $50 to drive on the beach because she (Jean) can’t walk really well. She can’t park and walk over, and so it doesn’t do us any good.  And they aren’t refunding us the money.  We also got a saltwater fishing license, and if we can’t go to the shoreline to fish, then it won’t do us any good.”

They didn’t know about the government shutdown of the beaches, which began yesterday morning, until a man stopped them on the beach and warned them that a ranger said that he would be back to kick them off. 

“But it’s not their fault,” said Jean. “We’ve still enjoyed it.  We always love, you know, coming out here.  It seems like it’s a part of us.  And we drive 450 miles to get here.”

They are talking about leaving early but haven’t decided yet.

“We just keep hoping maybe it’ll reopen tomorrow or Friday. We just don’t know,”said Ernest.

Groups of anglers were also finding it tough going today on Ocracoke.

Melinda Esham, of the Pony Island Motel, noted that several groups checked out early from the hotel and some are canceling their upcoming reservations.

Usually, the whole month of October is good, she said.

“This is our peak surf fishing season for groups of men,” she said, “and, unfortunately, they’re not interested in shopping.”

Leslie Gilbert of the Anchorage Inn noted that some callers are waiting to make reservations to see what happens.

One such regular group of eight men from Sanford, N.C., was cooling their heels in their rental house along Back Road.   Their annual trip to Ocracoke for fall drum fishing has come to a screeching halt with no advance warning.

“Our travel insurance doesn’t cover a governmental shut down,” noted Al Pettigrew.  

He and Ronny Apple sat outside under a cloudless, windless day that would have been perfect beach weather.

They noted that if the shutdown is not lifted after tonight’s meeting between Congressional leaders and the President, they will pack up and leave Thursday.
Tom and Joyce Williams of Asheville, N.C., were contemplating their next move outside their room at Edward’s of Ocracoke.

Tom was especially upset that he gambled on purchasing a beach-driving permit late Monday.

“The government workers who sold it to me couldn’t comment as to whether it would be good or not,” he said. “I’m going to take that sticker and send it to Rep. Mark Meadows and ask him to give me a refund.”

Another fishing group said they went to the north end of the island (at the Hatteras dock) and walked with their gear to the beach to fish.

“A lot of people are aggravated here,” noted Jeff Purser of this seven-member group of men who have come from the western part of the state to fish here for five years.  Two in his group have bad legs and so need to be able to drive onto the beach.

“It’s a cryin’ shame,” he said. “It’s 12 hours from the time I get up till the time I get here,” he continued, adding that his group will remain through the week despite the beach closures. The men went out flounder gigging one night but caught very little.

Nonetheless, he is concerned that the government is trying to run all the fishermen off Ocracoke.

“We’re thinking of going to Emerald Isle next year,” he said.

Barbara and James Curlee of Albemarle traveled to Ocracoke for the day from their campsite on Hatteras to enjoy a picnic lunch at the end of the NPS parking lot near the sound.  Since they are in a private campground, they have access to both the beach and the sound.  But they were not happy about the shut down.

“It’s a shame and a disgrace,” James said, echoing many others and adding that the gate across the road to the Hatteras Lighthouse kept them from simply walking around it.

“I don’t see why we can’t walk around these monuments and go on the beaches,” he said. “(These monuments) belong to the taxpayers, not the federal government.”

Other folks were touring around, shopping, and eating in Hatteras village at mid-day yesterday.

Among them were Doug and Hoa Taylor of Garland, Texas.

We’re doing okay,” Doug said. “We went to the beach -- actually we went across because some of the access points were open.  They would have a tough time kicking everyone off the beach because there were so many people out there.

“This hasn’t really affected us that much because we don’t spend a lot of time on the water’s edge because Hoa doesn’t want to tan and I only burn.”

 “I’m not going to lay over and die, we’re just going to make other plans, and we definitely won’t plan on coming down here in October again,” he said.

Robert Hughes and his wife and their two children, Murray, 7, and Hazel Kate, 4, are visiting Hatteras from Durham, N.C.

“Some things have been affected, you know, you can’t get right up to the lighthouse, but we can still go to the beach,” Robert said. “I think that if we were big surf fishers then it would be a much bigger deal, but as far as the kids are concerned, they haven’t noticed any difference.”

“I have,” Murray objected. “I noticed that all the beach accesses are chained off and a little further down the road there are a bunch of cars parked on the side of the road and people are climbing over the dunes.”

“We still get to splash in the water,” said Hazel Kate.

 “It seems like they’re sort of serious about shutting it (the beaches) down, but I can’t tell that they’re writing any sort of citations for anyone,” Robert said.

They’re still enjoying their time here because the weather is gorgeous.  It just seems silly to the Hughes family that they’re turning people away.

 “We got here two days before the shutdown and hadn’t really thought about it because I forgot that this is all a national seashore,” he said.

They said they intend to stay because they are doing “pretty much what we wanted to do here.”

They commented that the park rangers had been really nice and even recommended other places to go when they’ve run into closures.

Claire Corn of Ashville is staying in Buxton.

“Well, it hasn’t really affected us much except for the (Visitor Center) being closed.  We stopped in because we wanted to find out where to eat, but it was shutdown.  Other than that, we’re staying in Buxton and where we’re staying they have private access so we can still go to the beach.

“We were able to go to the lighthouse before the shutdown and as long as they don’t shutdown the ferry then we’re okay,” she added.

“The weather’s beautiful and we’re having a good time.”

Paul Stevens is the National Park Service’s chief enforcement ranger for the seashore, and he’s serving as incident commander for the shutdown.  He is one of 13 employees, mostly in law enforcement, who have not been furloughed.

He said the rangers report that 98 to 99 percent of the visitors are understanding, and only a small number get angry.

There was only one ticket written yesterday, he said, and that was on Ocracoke.  A couple were riding a golf cart on a park trail and were told by a ranger they couldn’t be there.  Stevens said the couple went back to the village, got their pickup truck, ran around a blockade at a ramp, and over bushes to get to the beach. 

There have been several acts of vandalism, he added.  Swastikas were painted on signs at Buxton and Canadian Hole.  The chain at Ramp 55 in Hatteras village was vandalized three times and the barricade at Ramp 72 on Ocracoke, once.

Business owners we contacted today said they were holding their own but didn’t know how long they could if the shutdown continues any length of time.

As of this evening, the President and Congressional leaders were meeting, but there has been no indication of when or how the shutdown will end.

(Irene Nolan and Lara Rizuitti on Hatteras and Connie Leinbach on Ocracoke contributed to this article.)

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