On a unseasonable cold but sunny Monday morning, the National Park Service made it official — the new off-road vehicle ramp 48 and one mile of the new Inside Road on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore are open.
National Park Service staff members, representatives from beach access groups, and staff members from the North Carolina offices of the state’s senators traveled from the parking lot near Billy Mitchell Airport in a convoy of NPS trucks and SUVs to the first red ribbon, which was strung across the beginning of the new Inside Road, which runs between the dunes and the Park Service’s Frisco Campground.
Seashore superintendent Dave Hallac, NPS staff members who worked on the road construction, the access group folks, Betty Jo Shepheard from the Rocky Mount office of U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and Brian Brown from the Greenville office of U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis lined up to cut the ribbon that was stretched across the road.
A handful of beachgoers in their ORVs were parked nearby to watch the festivities.
With that job done, the vehicles traveled a mile or so along the sand road — wide enough for two vehicles to pass — through a panorama of beach vegetation, dune grasses, and salt marsh with the maritime forest as a backdrop.
In the area of the campground, several new walkways have been built for campers to cross above the marsh and over the sand road on boardwalks on their way to the beach.
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was straight ahead during the trip down the Inside Road, which will eventually takes ORV drivers to Buxton.
The remaining three miles of road from the new Ramp 48 back to Ramp 45 at the Cape Point Campground should be finished by late January or early February. There is already an inside road between Ramp 45 and Ramp 44 in Buxton.
When the entire road is finished, drivers will be able to travel from the Cape Point area behind the dunes all the way to Frisco. Currently, ORVs must return to Highway 12 and drive to Frisco to re-enter the beach at Ramp 49 because of a vehicle-free area in the Hook south of the Point that is closed to driving year-round.
In addition, the new stretch of Inside Road and the new Ramp 48 will allow drivers to bypass areas of the beach that are seasonally closed for bird and sea turtle nesting.
At Monday’s ceremonies, the convoy of vehicles stopped again at Ramp 48 to cut another bright red ribbon that stretched across it, as a few surprised fishermen watched curiously from trucks parked on the beach.
Then the convoy headed back along the beach to Ramp 49, past several dozen trucks of anglers, hoping for the best, even on a cold, windy morning.
Hallac gave special recognition at the ribbon-cutting to the Park Service maintenance staff, who were involved in planning and building the road, the ramp, and the new walkways.
They include John Kowlok, chief of maintenance for the Outer Banks Group; Shelley Rollinson, Hatteras Island maintenance chief; heavy-equipment operator Doug Blackmon; maintenance staff member Jack Clapp, and carpenters Randy Loupe and Gentry White.