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What's the Solution For Cape Hatteras National Seashore?


What's the correct image of ORV use at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the top photo, taken by A. Pitt, or the bottom photo used by the Southern Environmental Law Center?

The spit of sand that buffers the North Carolina coast from the worst the Atlantic Ocean can toss at it carries an array of contentious issues that seemingly have no easy answers. Foremost among the issues at Cape Hatteras National Seashore these days is the use of off-road vehicles to negotiate beaches that are either far from parking lots or which are just far enough from those lots to make it difficult to carry all your gear for a weekend fishing trip.

Cape Hatteras, authorized as America's first national seashore in 1937 but not actually established until 1953, is a beach lover's jewel. The heart of North Carolina's Outer Banks, the cape offers some of the best beaches in the country, is renowned for its surf fishing, has some of the East Coast's best waves for surfing, and has a decided tinge of wildness that is a welcome respite from the Mid-Atlantic's metropolitan areas.

Off-road vehicles long have been allowed on the national seashore. Unfortunately, the seashore hasn't had a formal off-road management plan in place, and that's why discussions centered on Cape Hatteras often grow heated.

The hot button is the fact that the cape's beaches and dunes attract wildlife: of late much has been made of the nesting shorebirds and sea turtles and whether off-road vehicles are impacting them. The divisions over that question are well-defined. Perhaps no topic other than guns in the parks illicits as many comments to the Traveler as ORVs and Cape Hatteras.

Are ORVs out of control, as the lower photo used by the Southern Environmental Law Center might suggest, or does the top photo provided by A. Pitt better capture ORV use on the cape?

Mr. Pitt has been visiting the cape since 1972 and owns land in Frisco that provides him and his family a welcome escape from their Richmond, Virginia, home. He's well-versed on the ongoing dispute surrounding ORVs on Cape Hatteras; since April he's written hundreds of members of Congress to try provide an ORVer's viewpoint of the ongoing debate and to question points raised by Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society, the two groups who, through the Southern Environmental Law Center, sued the National Park Service for its failure to develop an ORV management plan for the national seashore.

The lawsuit was settled earlier this year when all involved signed a consent decree that was designed to provide short-term management of ORV and pedestrian traffic in shorebird and sea turtle habitat while a long-term plan is developed. Unfortunately, not everyone is thrilled with the consent decree's provisions. Anglers and families that long have used ORVs to reach their favorite spots on the seashore complain that the decree is too restrictive and over-reaching.

What's important for all to remember is not only that ORVs long have been permitted at the national seashore and more than likely will continue to be allowed access in some fashion, but also that there is wildlife habitat on the seashore that needs protection because it is utilized by species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

"I have a vested interest in the area," says Mr Pitt. "It's truly my paradise! Most of the folks who speak out on this issue are fishermen/women. I speak out for beach access for any reason, whether it be fishing, surfing, or just sitting there playing Parcheesi.

" ... I support BOTH species protection AND ORV access, as do most beach users in this area," adds Mr. Pitt. "I truly believe that they can both be attained, if the 'eco' groups will indeed negotiate in good faith."

To some, "ORV" is a pejorative, a word that equates with four-wheelers charging willy-nilly across the landscape. Is that the case at Cape Hatteras, or are the "ORVs" there more likely to be pickup trucks and SUVs their owners use to reach beaches that otherwise would take walks ranging from perhaps a half-mile to nearly 5 miles to reach?

As the attached map shows, there are quite a few ORV and pedestrian restrictions between May 15 and September 15 to protect shorebird and sea turtle nesting habitat. Are those restrictions excessive? There certainly are hard opinions on both sides of that question.

While that question will continue to generate heated comments, let's hope all those involved will arrive at an acceptable solution through the National Park Service's long-term ORV management plan and not insist on a legislated solution from Washington.


Anonymous (not verified),

There is no question that lots of cars drive out onto the Cape beaches. There is also no question that some are offended that this long-standing practice takes place. I accept those two things, at face value.

The issue I have raised is that one of the photographs Kurt Repanshek used to illustrate this article shows plain evidence of having been altered in a manner that exaggerates the density of the cars on the beach.

I have found the source of this image that Kurt uses here, on the Southern Environment Law Center website, labeled "©SELC". I see no opportunity to view a larger version of the picture.

It is possible to create this alteration unintentionally. We can stipulate the dimensions of an image as it displays on the webpage, in code. Normally, though, we are careful to keep vertical & horizontal proportions the same, since a picture 'looks funny' if we change them. This picture 'looks funny' in a way the creates a stronger impact than the picture would have in its original proportions.

It is unethical to modify an image - to use distortions of the facts - to increase the force of the message one hopes to convey. If Southern Environment Law Center is indulging in this practice, it would reflect adversely on them & their mission.
I made a webpage to display the image in 3 widths: the width used in this article and on the SELC site, and at 2 wider widths. If you are not sure about the distortion-question, study these versions for a few seconds.

Increasing the width of the image does not make the cars go away. There are still lots of cars there. It does make it clearer, though, that the image was substantially altered.

It would be helpful to have access to a larger version of this image; preferably the original.

What country/state is CHNSS in ? The correct name is CHNSRA, and for those that are clueless the RA stand for RECREATION AREA,not reserve area. As far as the supposed endangered species there are none on CHNSRA. Both the plovers and turtles are threatened,not endangered. One of the reasons that these animals are in the threatened category ia that in numerous foreign countries they are table fare, some of the same foreign countries that we send taxpayer funded aid to. Maybe this gives some validity to the" tastes like chicken" adage. According to the Census Bureau by the year 2050 the US population will increase by almost 50% to 439 million, and if the wackos have their way the available beaches will decrease by the same 50%. If this happens the only beaches future generations will ever know will be the Ocean Cities,Virginia Beaches etc.
Some people seem to believe that Promises such as "Free and Open Beach Access " are meant to be broken. The disabled have no right to enjoy the beach in direct violation of The Americans with Disabilities Act. The safety of the American public is of no concern, ie the Bonner bridge, lightning shelters for beach users, means of access for the disabled and eldery, the animals are so way more important. Why is the American public being punished for the failure of the NPS to do its job? Do the plovers really need 1000 meter buffer zones, do all turtle nests magically require full beach closures on Sept 15? Show us the science, you can't because it doesn't exist and we all know it.

S.R., please stop exaggerating. An inlet is where the tide and current flow into and out-of the sound. Just when was a beach user drowned from swimming in the inlet, not in a "rip current"? The swimmers I have seen have been on the calmer sound side by the bridge. Please list the the what's, whens, who's of these many dog bites. Plus just by chance is the symbolic fence you refer to being run over, one that cut off retreat from an unusual high tide by a few feet? Or was it just run down by civil disobedience? I am also curious about just how many times, and at what locations inside of CHNSRA did an organized trash collection effort involve "birdwatchers"?

Exaggerating has not gotten anybody anywhere in these times. Post up your FIOA info. Now tell us how bad it was at Oregon Inlet (Bodie Island Spit) this year 2008. If compared to the staggering figures from years past, they would have had to build a second story to the Inlet beach this year. Got any pictures to show how bad the ORVS were stacked up on the spit, this year, 2008?

S. please stop exadurating. Yes it is Oregon Inlet north side (Bodie Island Spit). The fact that it is an Inlet would mean there are currents and tides flowing back and forth to the sound. Tell us more about these drownings. Just by chance was the symbolic fence run down blocking retreat from an unusual high tide by just a couple of feet? Or, was it run down by civil disobedience? Could you also provide the dates and locations that "birdwatchers" organized and participated in a beach cleanup on the beaches of CHNSRA? Show us what fruit you have plucked with a FOIA search.

It seems to me that a recurring theme in the use of public recreational space in general, and National parks and recreational areas specifically, includes a battle between people who want to use machines in their recreation and those who do not. Another recurring theme seems to be whether the effect of mechanized enjoyment of public space is considered in its totality, including its effects on natural resources and wildlife. At Cape Hatteras National Seashore, both these points are in play, the second in particular.

In my view, public recreational space exists for the enjoyment of all. There should be no debate about this. For Cape Hatteras, the debate seems to center on whether the recreation of machine-based citizens collides with the purpose and mission of the Seashore – as a public resource for all, and as a natural resource and sanctuary and refuge for wildlife. ORV proponents at Cape Hatteras seem to discount that the national seashore and recreation area is for any and all who visit, not just for people who wish to drive on the beach – this includes sharing equally in the natural resource and its wildlife, and not unequally or involuntarily bearing any negative impact of ORV activity. More important, they forget – or are perhaps unaware – that the paramount mission of Cape Hatteras National Seashore is protecting wildlife and the natural resource, not serving people.

The enabling legislation creating the National Seashore is very clear on why the CHNS exists is clear – that it is to be a primitive wilderness, and that no development or plan for the convenience of visitors be undertaken which would be incompatible with the preservation of the unique flora and fauna or the physical structure prevailing. Given this mission and enabling legislation, it is very difficult for me to understand why efforts to protect the resource and its wildlife can be a point of objection. The law is the law.

Putting aside whether ORV activity has overwhelmed the natural structure capacity of the Outer Banks – the photo of door-to-door ORVs at Oregon Inlet is absolute and unquestionable fact, and if there were a photo of ORVs at Cape Point at the tip of the Outer Banks on a busy day, there would be a second line of ORVs parked behind the first; the damage to dunes and beach structures on the Outer Banks because of irresponsible driving cannot be denied – the effect ORV activity on wildlife must be considered.

It must be noted that the current situation with respect to ORV activity at Cape Hatteras and protection of wildlife is because the National Park Service has failed to develop an acceptable ORV management plan for CHNS as required by Executive Order and NPS regulations. Not because “eco-terrorists,” as they often are referred to in Outer Banks ORV circles, have hijacked a process, as the Outer Banks ORV community charges. A lawsuit brought by environmental and wildlife groups based on the NPS’s failure to develop an acceptable ORV plan led to a U.S. District Court Judge signing a consent decree which settled the suit, and which defines the regulations in place now. Provisions of the consent decree specifically protect wildlife that otherwise would be endangered by ORV activity. The law is the law. Worth noting is that the federal judge issuing the decree, rather than being a liberal activist judge legislating from the bench, was appointed by Ronald Regan, and at one point had been a Senate staff member of Jesse Helms.

The consent decree process included public consultation and comment, and was agreed to by the organizations bringing the case and the National Park Service. And agreed to by the two North Carolina counties directly affected by the case, and representatives of a coalition of local ORV and fishing groups – the counties and the groups having participated in the case as interveners.

I for one am very pleased that an objective approach toward protecting the Cape Hatteras resource is in place, based in law. Deciding what wildlife species or what natural resource is to be protected based on public pressure or which individuals’ or special interest groups’ purposes are served cannot be considered responsible – or fair to all – in any way.

First of all, that picture of the crowd at Cape Point is testimony to the popularity of the greatest fishing spot on the coast. It's a big attraction, and only accessible by ORV for most people. It's several miles from the nearest paved road, and the sand is very soft and difficult to walk in. What you can't see is cut out of the picture. The vehicles are "corralled" into a small space due to "closures" and the 4 miles of beach to the north have very few vehicles on them. On the South side, the beach is completely closed to people, so that area is vacant as well. These guys try to "spin" reality by claiming only 12 miles are closed. In fact, the areas they close eliminate total access to the areas they claim are open, barring a helicopter. As you can see by both the photos shown, over wash is a major culprit to bird nesting, along with natural predators(which the NPS are trapping and killing). ORV's are not the problem, they help many American citizens enjoy the beauty, and the dedicated fishermen that frequent the beaches do more to police the trash that washes up on the shore than the NPS by a long shot. I'm afraid the Audubon and Defenders groups are just using this to market for more money. Using SELC to spin "half truths" and "fake science", is nothing but "Tabloid" money soliciting. That's just my opinion of course, but I've been enjoying the OBX for 45 years, and my Dad before me, and my children were enjoying it before our access rights were taken away.

I do not think some of you know what is actually going on here even though you have visited recently.

1. The 08 restictions included pedestrians. No you could not walk on the beach without facing a $5000 fine/imprisonment and more beach closures. this was done by a federal judge without public/park input.

2. The seashore has had few improvements for access for pedestrians and ORV's in the last 30 years. In the meantime, the US population has grown to over 300 million people.

3. The pro-access groups that support ORV use are also proposing more access for pedestrian use that include more parking lots, bathrooms, and boardwalks for pedestrians. This would eliminate the overcrowding of vehicles as most would park in the parking lots. Yes there are a lot of vehicles in the pictures. Its most likely July or August. The other 10 months the beach is mostly a few fishermen or nature lovers. A few dozen at most.

4. Basically the NPS needs our help getting into the 21st century so the park can be enjoyed not closed. There is room for all if managed properly.

Go to islandfreepress to read the truth. Look for Dr. Mike Berry's comments.

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