The Battle Over a North Carolina Beach Continues

The Battle Over a North Carolina Beach Continues

On Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a revolutionary management plan is finally putting embattled sea turtles and birds on near-equal footing with ORV drivers. But powerful interests are working hard to undo it.

By Ted Williams/Photography by Emiliano Granado
Published: September-October 2012
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Ted Williams

Ted Williams is freelance writer.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine


Glad to see some positive changes

I've spent many hours driving and fishing along the Outer Banks and I can only say that I hope the trend is moving toward a more wildlife friendly attitude. I spent a summer working there back in the 90's, doing shorebird studies and the rumblings were starting back then. I quit going to Cape Hatteras years ago because it was just too crowded and wasn't fun anymore. My last trip, about 5 years ago, I was so disappointed in the whole area. Too many people, most of them whining about how the piping plover was going to ruin their "way of life". I spent most of the trip biting my tongue. I am more than happy to restrict my driving, and pay for a permit (which most beaches require anyway!) if I'm doing it based on sound reasons, like avoiding nesting areas, saving wildlife, and limiting traffic. Maybe in a few years I'll be drawn back, if I see more positive changes. Until then, I'll keep my vacation money going to places that care about conserving resources instead of destroying them.

What caused the crowding

Bird closures that extended to the water began in 2004. Since that time summer ORV use has been reduced to 12 to 13 miles. So yes, take all the anglers that used to spread out at HI, then Billy Mitchell all the way around the point to the Cape Point Campground, Kinitkeet, and then north of Avon all the way to South of Rhdanthe/Salvo/Waves and corale them into 13 miles and you get crowding. 5 years ago would place your last trip at 2006 or 2007 which would be after resource closures started.

BTW, if you really wanted secluded areas you could have visited the area between Hatteras and Frisco or from the old lighthouse area all the way to the one way road north of the haul over. And the best kept secret in town--13 miles of Pea Island. Now we have added to these vehcile free areas--Hatteras Inlet Spit, the hook, and select areas between each ramp on the nothern villages. You can no longer travel from one ramp to another. You must back track, go back on the highway, then proceed. This adds to beach traffic and guess what, contrary to what another commenter said the VFAs are not at existing parking areas--that is, you must park on the road and walk through dunes or walk through the vehicle areas!

And the best kept secret, much of the VFAs were closed during tourist season. And many required users to stay below the high tide line and prohibted dogs and kites.

Not surprising that these VFAs were basically deserted. In fact, the beaches have been less crowded than I can remember since the whole mess started in 2004. So my question, where are all the visitors that are making this a record year? They are not on the beaches. Based upon the number of vacant rental houses, I say quite simply they are not here!

Not so

Actually Ginny doesn't know or have any data or proof of the history, distribution and density  of vehicles on the CHNS beaches. If anyone else had suggested something like without the proper peer reviewed science to back it up she or her husband would have stood up at a public meeting and berated the presenter as I have observed her do.

The bigger issue here is that many  ORVers see the parks as some type of event where the purpose is to cram as many vehicles and individuals as possible onto the park beaches. They have never really gotten or embraced the mission that this park was viewed as a "primitive wilderness" by the people who created it and wanted those  value protected. I personally don't think they find any value in desolate seascapes unless they and their friend are allowed to  drive there,  which  ruins what  little primitive wilderness is  left for me.  With cell  phones and message boards even if the entire park was open to ORV  use 24/7 a flash mob of vehicles could  show up anywhere at any time.   When I first started visiting Hatteras Island ORVs on the beaches were a rare sight unless we had walked to Cape Point, yea we really walked (and hitch hiked) our way out there. That was the only place you saw many  vehicles. The culture of large number of visitors driving ORVs everywhere in the Park is not historically accurate. Ginny should read the history  carefully.

If in fact Ginny's observations are true that no one is using the new VFAs meaning no one is bringing a carload of stuff to camp out as long as they want (outside of sea turtle season)  I guess she is right. My friends and I go to the VFAs   take a walk, swim, go birding, fishing, surfing then leave. I find a lot of people do use these areas. In any case if some areas get less use because they are closed to ORV use I think that is a good thing. In the new ORV regs the ORV users were assigned  all the best fishing, shelling,  birding, scenic, dramatic and remote areas of the park, basically all the areas they asked for. The VFA areas I think we're chosen by default rather than design as many of them are on beaches so eroded you can't drive on them or areas that are largely resource areas that are closed for a good part of the year anyway.

FYI  Pea Island National Wildlife Refugee is not Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The use of the  beach there  is not managed by the  National Parks or included in CHNS 's beach miles. But I am glad it was brought up. I counted cars parked on Pea Island  one day this summer. Counting the parking lots, New New Inlet and the side of the road there were 181 vehicles. All the people in those vehicles were accessing the beach by foot.   FWS management seems  to be working out pretty good. Driving is not allowed on PINWR beaches.

I do think that the Park  should improve facilities on some of the VFA.  If there was a bathhouse and larger parking lot on the VFA north of Avon I am sure there would be more use there and likewise one between Avon and Buxton. I also think  in the remote parts of  the VFA  that resource restrictions could be reduced with no detrimental affects. Likewise on some of the ORV areas foot traffic could be allowed  at the tideline to access other areas that are not closed while  ORV use  has been restricted. As far as I can tell the "for access" organisations have never pursued that, there concern continues to be ORV access.

Avon local


First, no one, I repeat no one has proof of density of use on an average day. That's because Vogelsong botched what could have been a real study.

Now, ask anyone who has been to ramp 43 since the Consent Decree--the little .4 mile area open during most of the season. You can barely find a parking place let alone fish without worrying about hooking someone. It was never that bad in the past. And the more remote less used areas that remained open at ramp 38, 34, 30 (27 and 23 have been mostly closed) usually provided out of the way places for those who use ORVs to access the beach.

As for Pea Island not being part of the seashore, please look it up. It is part of the seashore but the seashore allows USFWS to manage it. And even if it weren't part of the seashore, it is part of the island and provides a true (or at least as close as you will get to) primitive experience.

As for VFA usage, I didn't say not used but very infrequently and at the cost of people deciding not to visit any longer because the areas they used to use are unavailable with the remaining areas way too crowded (I have been hearing this for a few years and it seems to be coming to fruition). Oh, and by the way, two people who did walk from Avon to ramp 34 got stranded when a bird closure went up blocking their return. They reported having to walk through the dunes and vegetation (despite not being dressed for it) to the highway and then either walking the highway or hitching a ride.

As for getting all the best fishing spots--poppy cock. What about the inlet spits and the hook. By the way the latter is only accessible via ORV routes or a long walk from the camp ground.

As for being more lienient on resource protection in VFAs, read the science on which the plan is based. The science states, the birds are bothered more by people than vehicles.

Finally, many of things you request are in the plan--they just have not been implimented. That means, this is not the plan that was reviewed, commented on, presented to OMB, and passed. This is a bastardized version of the plan that went through the reg. neg. process.

What the enabling legislation says

Doesn't say anything about vehicles driving on the beach.

CHNS enabling legislation

Except for certain portions of the area, deemed to be especially adaptable for recreational uses, particularly swimming, boating, sailing, fishing, and other recreational activities of similar nature, which shall be developed for such uses as needed, the said area shall be permanently reserved as a primitive wilderness and no development of the project or plan for the convenience of visitors shall be undertaken which would be incompatible with the preservation of the unique flora and fauna or the physiographic conditions now prevailing in this area . . .

(Aug. 17, 1937, ch. 687, Sec. 4, 50 Stat. 670; June 29, 1940, ch. 459, Sec. 1, 54 Stat. 702; Mar. 6, 1946, ch. 50, 60 Stat. 32.)

ORVs and Wildlife

Really is it no different than people running over animals in a national park on the road than running over them on the beach? I do believe there should be some protection against the wildlife that inhabit the beach. I like no driving on the beach during turtle laying/hatching season. Maybe put inplace a speed limit on the beach. (if there is one i've never seen it while driving on the beaches) limit night driving on the beach? set aside areas where ORVs can't go... i'm a huge supporter of Audubon and if they see something wrong i believe that laws and limits should be put in place, but not ban people from driving on the beach entirely, that would be like banning people from driving on the roads/trails in a national park sorta...

Wow Joan, your forehead is really large.

"In addition all that development is ridiculous considering how fragile and vunerable access to Hatteras and Ocracoke Island is. Each year weather related events cause mandatory evacuations of non residents, sometimes restricting visitation for for weeks."

Yeah, we should remove all from the development from coastal areas of Florida, New Orleans, and Louisiana too. Wonder how many birdies were displaced when they built those new levees...

"The park's new ORV plan is still a nightmare that caters to ORV users to the detriment of non ORV users and wildlife. "

Huh? Ted says its a revolutionary plan! SELC says the plan been success for tourism and wildlife! But, Ted is clueless and SELC gets paid to tell half truths and to distort facts. The plan hardly caters to the ORV users, at peak of the tourism season, ORV access is now cut by about 75%...

The truth is that pro-access groups and visitors want REASONABLE resource protection. I believe the plan went way to far but did so only appease environmental extremists views and agendas. The new plan's resource closures for species are excessive, and most cases are larger and more restrictive than used anywhere. Under the new plan, non-endangered and non-threatened species protection methods often close off popular beaches to PEDESTRIANS, meaning no one can even walk to these areas. Completely closing (no walking or driving) popular areas for most of the tourism season can't be good for tourism no matter how you spin it. The new plan created pedestrian only areas without providing any way to access them and failed to recognize the existing traditionally pedestrian only beaches, like the rather large one called PINWR located within Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area.

There have been species closures, safety closures, and walking only beaches for as long as I can remember on Cape Hatteras Island. So going back to interim plan doesn't remove resource protections, just not as anal and excessive. Reminds of me one of the ORV groups motto, "Preserve and Protect...not Prohibit."

So yes, contact your senator and members of the subcommittee and tell them to support Senate Bill 2372.

I agree that Audubon and SELC have fooled congressional leaders that there is some kind of environmental crisis on Hatteras Island.And that its okay to convert the "recreational area" into a "wildlife refuge" by policy. If you really look at the species success rate before and after the changes that have been made, you can't honestly say the changes have made any real difference.

But hey, this is about exposure and generating donations for Audubon, they have to twist this into something its not... Audubon used its money and lobbying power to shove their agenda down the throasts of visitors and residents of Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area.

fuck the audubon

fuck the audubon

Hey Jim Brown

Bet your not an avid bird watcher, just another sneaky pissed off ORVer (your Audobon mispelling gave you away), not that there is anything wrong with birding from a vehicle. There are parking lots by all of the ramps, other seperate large parking lots, bathrooms, showers all with close proximity to the pedestrian areas and there are areas set aside where people can take a hike down the beach to do what they like without negotiating your tire ruts or parked vehicles in others words room to get away from others if that is your desire. There is also plenty of beach for you to drive on. Typical ORVer dishonesty.

Beach access

We are avid bird watchers and have been using ORV's on Assateague Island, Bodie Island, Hatteras Island, Ocracoke Island, The Core Banks, and other beaches in NC since 1987.
The policy the Audobann is dictating to the NPS is harmful to the economies of beaches that depend on tourists.
Pedestrian only areas are a sham.
There is no parking or walkways for beach goers.
I feel sick that I subscribed to Audobon Magazine for 20 years.

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