The Island Free Press got more than the usual number of letters to the editor when Ramp 23, just south of Salvo, was closed two weeks ago on Friday, May 7, for least tern breeding activity.
Most of those who contacted us were fishing on the beach south of Ramp 23 and were really steamed that the ramp was closed and that they were not notified that it was happening.
The fishermen left on the beach when the ramp was closed had to travel south to Ramp 27 ? quite a few miles over a treacherous stretch of beach.
Susan Champion of Montgomery, N.Y., wrote that she and her husband camp in Salvo for two months in the spring and a month in the fall.
?It goes without saying that we have spent many thousands of dollars in the area over that time,? she said. ?We, like so many fishermen, have been increasingly alarmed by the beach closures,? she wrote in a letter to Island Free Press. ?Yesterday?s closure of Ramp 23 was the most upsetting of all. It showed the arrogance that the Park Service shows toward fishermen.?
She said there were several groups fishing south of Ramp 23. They saw the activity at the ramp. She says that fishermen north of Ramp 23 were escorted off the beach by Park Service personnel when the ramp was closed.
Champion added that Park Service personnel closed the ramp without telling any of the fishermen to the south that they would have to travel down the beach to Ramp 27.
?They put the stakes up, strung the string, and left,? Champion said. ?We were shocked. How hard would it have been for one of them to ride down and tell the first fisherman that they were going to leave it open for another half hour so we could pack up and leave?
?When we realized we were trapped, we had to form a caravan and drive to Ramp 27 at high tide through very perilous conditions. During the exodus, several trucks were stuck in the narrows and a law enforcement ranger had to help them out.?
Champion said that to these fishermen, the incident ?was a great example of the disregard that the Park Service shows the users of the beach.?
Another letter writer, John Hood of Morganton, N.C., wrote, ?I was among those who were blocked inside Ramp 23 without warning. I have no trouble navigating the sand on the upper part of this location, but the sand is much deeper and softer as you get near Ramp 27. I never venture down that far if I can avoid it. Well, thanks to the total disregard of the Park Service, I was forced to take that route. You would think that the rangers would have warned us before closing the ramp.?
Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent Mike Murray says that these folks on the beach should have been notified.
Murray said the Park Service?s normal procedure is that its resource management staff notifies the law enforcement staff when a ramp is about to be closed. Then the law enforcement rangers notify folks on the beach about the closure.
That did not happen when Ramp 23 was closed because of a failure in communication between resource and law enforcement rangers, Murray said.
He said it won?t happen again.
?Visitors, who had accessed the beach via Ramp 23 and had not been advised of the imminent closing of the ramp, were understandably angry and confused by the closure,? Murray wrote in an e-mail to Island Free Press. ?To those visitors on the beach, we apologize and regret that the closure occurred without them being notified.?
Murray said that Park Service staff met to discuss the situation the week after the incident. He added:
?In reviewing the situation, there was a break-down in coordination between our resources management staff, who implemented the closure according to consent decree requirements, and our law enforcement staff, who are normally involved in notifying the public and ensuring the public has reasonable options for leaving the beach, if necessary. Visitors who had accessed the beach via Ramp 23 should have been contacted before the closure was implemented, and the situation explained to them so that they understood their options for leaving the beach. (The options on Friday would have been to leave via Ramp 23 before the closure was implemented or to leave at one’s convenience via Ramp 27 after the closure was implemented.)?
The superintendent said the Park Service has taken steps to ?ensure the lack of notification doesn’t happen again.?
It did not happen the next week when Ramp 44 to Cape Point was closed for piping plover chicks that had just hatched.
Of course, in that case, anyone who wasn?t notified had no other option for leaving the beach, since the area to the north and south of Ramp 44 is already closed.
Jack R. Ostmark of Highland, N.Y., said that he was a new fisherman on the Outer Banks and a retired state trooper.
He wrote that he thinks it was ?arrogant? for the ramp to be closed with no notice to fishermen to the south of Ramp 23.
?I am expecting a response from the National Park Service of Hatteras Island that this was an incredible mistake by the personnel who sealed off the ramp without any notice,? Ostmark said in his e-mail.
Ostmark and the others who sent us e-mails got their apology from the Park Service.
That is good.
Unfortunately, several of the folks who wrote to us say they won?t come back again.
?We probably have spent our last time in North Carolina,? Susan Champion wrote, adding that the environmental groups win, ?but the majority loses.?
I hope all of those who sent us letters ? you can read them in the Letters to the Editor posted today on the Commentary Page ? will give Hatteras another chance.
The beach closures during the bird and turtle nesting season are confusing and a definite downer for many anglers and others who want to access the beach.
However, there are beaches open for fishing, swimming, shelling, and whatever you want to do. And there will be all summer.
Finally, please remember that the struggle for access is not an ORV issue. It is an issue for all who want to use the seashore?s beaches for any reason, including pedestrians.
Also, remember that Ramp 23 was closed by breeding least terns, which are not a federally protected bird. They are listed as ?species of special concern? by the state, and that?s it.