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You can fish anywhere on the beach -- and other misconceptions about the ORV plan

Friday 26 April 2013 at 4:36 pm.

The National Parks Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources had a hearing last week on Senate Bill 486, which would overturn the off-road vehicle management plan at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Under the legislation, which was introduced last month by Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., off-road vehicles would be managed under the seashore’s Interim Management Plan until Park Service officials present a new final plan that allows more reasonable access to the beaches.

For whatever reason, the National Park Service had a new administration witness at this hearing.  At past hearings, Herbert Frost, associate director of natural resource stewardship and science for the Department of Interior, had presented testimony for the department and the NPS.

This time around, we heard from Peggy O’Dell, deputy director of operations for the Park Service.

The message was the same as it has been when previous legislation with the same goal was pending in the House or Senate.

The Department of Interior and National Park Service “strongly oppose” this bill.  As Frost had before her, O’Dell declared that the ORV plan was a great success in increasing shorebird and sea turtle nesting and it had not hurt the local economy.

Neither one of those statements is entirely true, but I won’t dwell on that in this blog.

I’d like to move on to what O’Dell told Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., when he questioned her.

Heinrich said he is interested in preserving hunting and fishing rights on federal lands and asked specifically how much of the seashore beach remained open for fishing.

“People can fish anywhere,” O’Dell told him with a straight face.

That answer is, at best, misinformed, and, at worst, an outright untruth.

The truth of the situation is that you cannot fish anywhere you want at anytime you want.  Large stretches of the beach, especially some of the premier fishing areas, are closed about four months during the nesting season – not only to ORVs by also to pedestrians. Or those areas might be not be officially closed but you can’t get there by ORV – or by walking unless you want to wade in breaking waves, which is only for the young and strong when you are carrying fishing tackle, coolers, and bait.

Her statement went unchallenged at the hearing, but will not remain unchallenged.

The hearing record is open for two more weeks and groups that favor more reasonable access will be weighing in with more information on why they oppose the plan.  And the Outer Banks Preservation Association President John Couch is urging all residents and visitors who oppose the plan to contact their senators before Wednesday, May 8.

A bill to overturn the ORV plan passed in the House last year, but failed to get out of committee in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.

At Tuesday’s hearing, subcommittee chairman, Mark Udall, noted that all of the 13 bills that were being considered, except one, were also heard by the full Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year, though none was “marked up” or sent to the full Senate for a vote.

He seemed to indicate that he would like to move the legislation forward this year.

The full committee which must “mark up” the bill  has 12 Democrats and 10 Republicans.

At least two Democrats will have to vote in favor to get S 486 reported out of committee.

Those of us who favor more reasonable beach access have one Democrat squarely in our corner – Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Manchin beat up the Park Service pretty well at a hearing last year on an identical Senate bill.

The senator has a very important connection to the seashore that is one of those “small world” stories.

Manchin was a good friend of another West Virginia politician, one who left state politics to move to Ocracoke Island in 1991, where he and his wife built one of the island’s most successful businesses – Howard’s Pub and Raw Bar.

That West Virginian was the late George Blackburn Warner Jr., known to all as Buffy.

Manchin is a Democrat and Buffy was a Republican, but the two became friends during the 1980s in the West Virginia Senate where they both served, and that may explain Manchin’s singling out last year’s bill for its bipartisan support from both the Republican and Democratic senators from North Carolina.

“They were extremely close, and they worked really well across the aisle,” said Buffy’s widow, Ann, who worked for West Virginia state government in economic development.

“Our family and his have remained friends,” she said. “Joe and his family have been visiting the Outer Banks, and especially Ocracoke, for the last 20 years.”

Manchin recalled some of those visits when he spoke earlier this week with local beach access advocates who were in Washington for the Tuesday hearing.

The local folks – David Scarborough, John Couch, and Jim Keene – arrived Monday and met with aides for Burr and Hagan. 

At the end of the afternoon, on a whim, they decided to stop by Manchin’s office, figuring they might get to talk to one of his aides.

Instead, they got a meeting with the senator that lasted about 30 minutes.

“He told us stories of fishing in the Ocracoke tournament and the Anglers Club tournament,” Scarborough said.

And he vowed to become a co-sponsor of S 486 and to appear at the next day’s subcommittee hearing, where he grilled the Park Service’s O’Dell about the details of the ORV plan and the park’s relationship with the local community.

Manchin is a powerful ally because he “gets it.”  He knows the seashore and knows the subtleties of the plan that other lawmakers don’t.

“He’s intimately familiar with what’s been available (to ORVs and pedestrians) and how it’s been traditionally used,” noted Scarborough.

When Peggy O’Dell says you can fish anywhere on the seashore beaches, Manchin knows that’s not true.

But that message must reach other senators, especially Democrats, for the bill to be successful.

Outer Banks Preservation Association President, John Couch, today sent an e-mail to members, urging them to contact their senators – even if they have weighed in on past bills.

It must be done again, he said, by May 8.

Beach access advocates and Dare County officials who were in Washington for the hearing were also passing out a packet of materials, prepared by OBPA, which really brings home the meaning of the closures under the ORV plan.

Besides talking points about the bill, maps, and comparison charts, the package includes a series of photos and captions, showing access restrictions in a dramatic way on one day -- July 31 of last year during the peak of the nesting closures.

This blog contains a link to that package for the information of our readers and to help them with talking points when they contact their lawmakers in Washington.


Click here to read the testimony of the National Park Service’s Peggy O’Dell at Senate subcommittee hearing.

Click here to see the package of information that OBPA and CHAPA are passing out to lawmakers.

Contacting Senators

Members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee are listed at http://www.energy.senate.gov
You can contact the senators using one or more of the following methods:


  • Some Senators have public email addresses but most require the use of contact forms managed through their websites. A directory of Senator e-mail addresses does not exist, but online contact forms can be accessed using the following links.

Web Links:

U.S. Mail (slowest):

  • Use the following address and reference S. 486:

       The Honorable (Name)
       Energy and Natural Resources Committee (not required if addressing a senator not on the committee)
       United States Senate
       Washington, D.C. 20510
       Dear Senator (Name);

Telephone (fastest):

  • Find phone number on the Senator's website, or call the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and a switchboard operator will connect you.

sixteen comments

Al Adam

Ms. O’Dell’s comments are typical of those either badly misinformed, lacking general or specific knowledge of the facts, extremely prejudiced and oblivious to reality, following instructions to repeat falsehoods until they become reality, flat out and otherwise clueless or intentionally lying. For somebody in her position to be subject to any of the above is a disgrace. She is incompetent and should not hold any position of responsibility. Are people under oath is these hearings? I “strongly oppose” spending tax money to support her. She needs to be sequestered.

Al Adam - 26-04-’13 17:20

just wondering…..how much time has ms. o’dell spent on hatteras island? has she talked to the people who live and work on the island?

bbc - 26-04-’13 21:46
salvo jimmy

IMO the best analogy to point out to the pols is that the situation is like saying about Disney World that lots of attractions (beaches) are open, but OBTW the most popular attractions (beaches) are closed.

Also point out that many of the beaches open to peds only, even with no wildlife closure restrictions, are so difficult to access, that virtually no one goes there, even during prime season.

salvo jimmy - 27-04-’13 07:04

sj…….i’d also point out that some of those beaches have no facilities within miles of them. no shade and plenty of biting black flies to feast on your body.

bbc - 27-04-’13 16:21
salvo jimmy


Right. Another reason I think these remote ped areas are not used.

I’m always glad I have my vehicle when a thunder bumper comes along and standard gear is a 5 gal bucket with large zip-lock type bag, chemical and an old toilet seat, with appropriate paper of course. Also carry a wide mouth plastic jug with screw tight lid to limit bucket use by males.

Have a 2.5 gal refillable plastic jug with spout for water to wash up with and of course paper towels and a trash bag.

Yep, not hard to figure why very few folks are walking a long distance, maybe thru heavy brush, and have only what they can carry.

Not to mention some folks think it is ok to relieve themselves behind the dune, but the rules say NO.

salvo jimmy - 29-04-’13 05:57

The areas that cars are not allowed to drive in are not overused and abused like the areas where vehicles are allowed. We like the remoteness of the beaches where cars can’t drive. Where you  see a problem  we see  a desirable asset.
Go early in the morning, park at one of the ORV ramps or a grassy spot on highway 12  next to  a path and enjoy an early morning on the beach.. Afternoons are  nice but sunrises  on the ocean beach are stunning.
Enjoy it now because more people will be visiting these areas once they know they  are available.

Jane - 06-05-’13 11:32

Jane, there have always been beaches where vehicles were not permitted. The best example is Pea Island where there are 12 miles of spectacular and remote vehicle free beaches. The miles of beach from Hatteras Village to Frisco and Buxton to Avon has been vehicle free. There was absolutely no need to make more vehicle free beaches.
Pea Island is highly under utilized during the peak tourism season, so you can enjoy its remoteness and vehicle-less beaches anytime.
Please help us reverse this bad new plan to help our friends and business owners on the island. They are struggling to survive with big decrease in shoulder season business.
Don’t be fooled by the NPS/DOI,Audubon/DOW. If you want to the real story, talk to the local residents and business owners.

AnonVisitor - 07-05-’13 09:12

Jane, I believe the places SJ are referring to are places like South Beach, and Hatteras Spit, where there are no parking areas anywhere nearby, and they require long hot walks in the sand, not simply parking on the side of the road and hopping a dune.

AmyS - 08-05-’13 10:50

You are spot on. All the whining is about people wanting to drive on the beach. Everything else, and every other excuse,used to defend this practice, from loss of American freedom and liberty to caring about trapping of animals to “helping to pack down the sand” to economics to “no harm done because of tire pressure” is just hyperbolic rhetoric and pure spin. Times have changed. Businesses have adjusted and yearly visitorship continues to increase. Funny how people feel so strongly about a recreational hobby and equate it to the downfall of Western Civilization. You can still fish here,just not near breeding wildlife or with a truck by your side. And after breeding season, much of the beach is even reopened to ORVs. This is a balanced approach and NPS has gone out of its way to be inclusive to all stakeholders.

billfish - 09-05-’13 10:26

Billfish you are so far from reality and our area. Delusions.

Bud - 10-05-’13 07:50

have you ever noticed when people use the ‘times have changed’ statement it’s always to support their views?

bbc - 12-05-’13 08:16

The South Beach pedestrian area could be enjoyed by driving an ORV to the beginning of the ped area then getting out of the car and walking or you could park at the back of Cape Point campground and hike to it, just like millions of other visitors who have hiked in National Parks all over the world. The inlet area is a very small area where cars can get close to the closed ORV area. I guess it has more to do with resource protection than pedestrians issues. It is not an inconvenience to fishing.
I bet the NPS didn’t think that the anyone was entitled to everything they wanted so they cut the baby up, that is probably why you can now drive behind Frisco and Hatteras villages in the off season and why there is a pedestrian area on the South Beach and Salvo. They (NPS) compromised the rule it in a way to make sure no one got what they wanted.

Anon - 14-05-’13 07:09

Yes, Anon, those points are true, but as pointed out by others earlier there is hardly ever anyone in those areas, because they are not easy accessible, therefore cutting folks who aren’t in excellent shape who wish to not utilize an ORV and pay the fee out of the equation. It’s not impossible to use those areas, but it’s not likely that many will, so it seems pointless to make them pedestrian areas. I was mainly pointing out to Jane that people weren’t talking about the same areas she’s talking about, and it’s doubtful anyone will be flocking to those areas, because it’s just not that simple to get your family and whatever they may want to take to enjoy a day on the beach other there.

AmyS - 16-05-’13 10:35


There are areas that you can drive the family to and there are areas you can not. There are a number of very nice easily accessible beaches with plenty of parking for those people who do not have an ORV, like the old lighthouse area in Buxton and the Bathhouse in Frisco. With that said I think we could agree that the Park could have done a better job of picking which beaches are managed for pedestrians and ORVs. It appears that some of the pedestrian beaches were chosen primarily for resource management reasons, you have to read through the lines.

Managing some parts of the Seashore’s beaches so they remain somewhat desolate is important. It is one of the reasons this park was established. Those people fit enough and have the desire to recreate in those areas can. Visitors that are not fit enough or choose not to have other options. Because some beaches are not utilized to the extent other beaches are is not a reason in itself to change management of those beaches.

The elephant in the room is the local ORV groups that want all of the Seashore to be a potential ORV route, very little compromise there, read their position statements and public comments.

In addition, the management of PINWR is not decided by CHNS mangers. It has been decided that management in PINWR does not mitigate management in CHNS. Refugee managers don’t want vehicles on those beaches for different reasons than CHNS.

Anon - 17-05-’13 18:59

Anon, I have no interest in debating you on this. I am aware of all the different types of areas and where they are. Like I said, I was pointing something out to Jane, not attempting to debate you on the right or wrongs of it all.

AmyS - 20-05-’13 15:18

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