My son was here this past weekend to help me with cataract surgery. On Saturday, the day after the surgery, the day was sunny and unseasonably warm, so we took a late afternoon drive on the beach.
We made our last trip by vehicle from Ramp 49 in Frisco to Cape Point.
It’s a favorite beach “tour” for many islanders and visitors. It’s about 5 miles from Ramp 49 to Ramp 44 north of Cape Point. As usual, we stopped along the way to get out and walk, do some shelling, watch the dolphins frolicking in the breakers and the birds that were everywhere.
We got to the Point just about sunset and watched the sun sink into the western horizon and the sky turn bright colors of pink and orange.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made that drive, and it was difficult to think that this would be the last one. Soon, 1.7 miles of beach between Ramp 49 and the Point, will become a vehicle-free area year round. That is basically in the popular area known as the Hook.
When the National Park Service final rule for off-road vehicles for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore becomes effective on Feb. 15, we will have to learn some new habits about beach driving on the beach and say goodbye to some old ones – like driving on the beach for free.
There are some places, such as the Hook, we’re used to driving that we will not drive again.
Some of them are places near and dear to our hearts, favorite places for surf fishing, shelling, surfing, and for families to bring a day’s worth of gear and hang out, fish, swim, cook dinner, and have a bonfire on the beach.
Our access to our favorite places, such as the points and spits, will be much more limited, with portions of all reserved as vehicle-free areas.
Some of the favorite places have been off limits during nesting season, but we’re talking about year-round under the final rule.
The environmentalists and their supporters who drove the agenda for the new rule don’t see a thing wrong with any of this. They think we are a bunch of cry babies who care more about fun than “baby” birds and turtles.
This is not so. What we are gearing up for is a major change in our traditional, historical, and cultural uses of the Hatteras and Ocracoke beaches – the ways folks who have lived here have always accessed the beach.
We want to be stewards of the environment, but we also want to use the beach as we always have and feel we always should. We don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, but that battle has been fought and lost.
So here’s a bit of a guide to the new ORV routes and areas and where we can drive, not drive, or walk.
Just remember that you won’t be able to drive on these routes all the time – even the routes that are called “year-round.” Nor will you be able to walk in vehicle-free areas if birds and turtles are nesting there.
At the end of this blog, you can click on a mile-by-mile chart of the seashore that spells out the year-round ORV routes, seasonal ORV routes, and the vehicle-free areas (VFAs).
Here is a brief summary of the 26.4 miles of year-round VFAs from Bodie Island through Ocracoke:
- Ramp 1 to half a mile south of Coquina Beach. 1.7 miles.
- Southeast corner of Bodie Island spit along the inlet shoreline to the southwest edge of the Bait Pond. Eight-tenths of a mile.
- Rodanthe boundary to one-tenth of a miles south of Rodanthe Pier – 1.6 miles.
- Ramp 23 south of Salvo to 1.5 miles south of Ramp 23. 1.5 miles.
- Ramp 27 to Ramp 30 between Salvo and Avon. 2.2 miles.
- New Ramp 32.5 to Ramp 34. Between Salvo and Avon. 2 miles.
- 1.5 miles south of Ramp 38, which is south of Avon, to four-tenths of a mile north of Ramp 43, which is south of Buxton. 4.1 miles.
- Three-tenths of a mile west of Cape Point to 1.7 miles west of Ramp 45. This is the area called the Hook. 2.8 miles.
- Sandy Bay/Frisco Day Use Area (west of Frisco boundary) to east Hatteras village boundary. 1.4 miles.
- Bone Road off the Pole Road to Hatteras Inlet and along the inlet shoreline to Spur Road. 1 mile. This includes the area at the tip of the Hatteras Inlet shoreline sometimes known as False Point.
- Hatteras Inlet to new Ramp 59.5 on Ocracoke. This includes the North Point of that island. 1.6 miles.
- New Ramp 63 on Ocracoke to 1 mile northeast of Ramp 67. 2.5 miles.
- Ramp 68 to four-tenths of a mile northeast of Ramp 70. 2.2 miles.
- The inlet shoreline at Ocracoke’s South Point. 1 mile.
You can see the current and planned new ramps on the seven maps that detail the year-round and seasonal ORV routes.
There are 28 miles of year-round ORV routes in the seashore, but they are subject to nesting closures.
The 13 miles of seasonal ORV closures are basically in front of the villages and a few other areas, such as Bodie Island spit and the Ocracoke campground.
The areas we will be able to drive, subject to resource closures, are clearly outlined in the seven maps of the seashore that are in the Final Environmental Impact statement.
There were no changes in the basic ORV routes in the final rule. There were a few adjustments, including more clearly delineating routes at Hatteras spit as a result of changes caused by Hurricane Irene and declaring that Ramp 59 on Ocracoke will be an ORV ramp until the new 59.5 is built.
When you look at the maps, remember that the green broken line indicates a year-round ORV route and the red broken line indicates a seasonal route. Where you see shoreline with no red or green lines, it’s closed year-round as a vehicle-free area.
We will all learn to live by the new regulations, and we must keep reminding ourselves that it could have been worse.
There are still 28 miles of year-round ORV routes. During the spring and summer nesting season, ORV access will be pretty much what is has been in recent years.
There will continue to be beaches we can drive to – just maybe not the ones we’d prefer to drive to.
And stay tuned for more information on permits that the Park Service has said it will release before Feb. 15. We presume that will include information on the cost of the permits and when they will go on sale.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Click here for a chart of year-round and seasonal ORV routes and areas and vehicle-free areas.
Click here for seven seashore maps of year-round and seasonal ORV routes.
Updated maps of the seashore with ORV routes and vehicle-free areas and frequently asked questions about the rules should be available soon on the Cape Hatteras National seashore website, www.nps.gov/caha.