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


How many nests were in the South Beach area this year?

"In my opinion the South Beach in the last 50 years had lost all of it primitive wilderness aspect by being "discovered" by day campers in SUVs. All of these beaches were sparsely visited when the park was established. Commercial fishing was the cultural historical use of these remote areas not 1000's of day campers parked on the beaches."

Recreational fishing and calmer waters swimming have also always been part of the cultural historical use of these remote areas. And never have been 1000s of "day campers" in that area, your opinion would have been more sincere sounding without false dramatization. At best there was a couple hundred vehicles on the bustiest holiday weekends and that is not the norm.

"There is specific value, both culturally and historically, that is enumerated in the enabling legislation in identifying and preserving sparsely used unencumbered shorelines (primitive wilderness). I am glad (even in a token way) that a small section has been identified and managed with those goals in mind."

The enabling legislation made this identification and designated the northern most 13 miles of the island, they called Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. These 13 miles were originally part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area.

How many nests were in the South Beach area this year? How many months was this completely off limits to everyone, except for NPS biotechs driving all over place trying to find birds? I support reasonable closures for nesting birds but don't support "VFA"s or "pedestrian only area" designation of this area. Fact is that ORV use of this area would reduce vegetation and actually make it more favorable for nesting shorebirds.

Not the cultural historical tradition

The south beach is not the only calm swimming water or fishing area  in the Park. You  could still safely do both in other places in the park. The 1000's of day campers was in reference to all of CHNS not just the few miles of south beach and should have been in a separate paragraph. I didn't mean to imply there were 1000's of vehicles parked on South Beach. However before the final rule  there were no quotas to keep that from happening. The section  of south beach that is now a VFA  might on a busy day have had a car parked every 50"feet.  Under the currant  regulations a 2 mile stretch of beach could have 528 cars parked there. This is not the recreational experience I want to participate in. I don't believe  this kind of visitation, 100's of vehicles crammed on narrow a beach (narrow as compared to 50 years ago) is what is supported in the EL  for CHNS nor is it the cultural historical tradition of  Hatteras Island.   VFA on the south beach were conceived as a way to provide  resting and feeding areas for birds  not  providing vehicle free pedestrian access or preserving primitive wilderness, not that it doesn't also address those uses.

Walking is an old and established cultural tradition of accessing the Park. 

The issue for Audubon is   protecting critical species not restricting recreational opportunities. 

There is nothing written that suggests that PINWR was to be the "primitive wilderness" designated for CHNS. PINWR is managed by FWS to  protect and improve natural resources (migratory  birds) they decided no vehicles on the beach as a way to facilitate their mission. 

Using ORVs for habitat improvement by destroying native plants is counter intuitive. You would still have to restrict driving from pre-nesting, nesting,  chicks had fledged and provide some resting and feeding areas.

Helping Birds by Wiping Out Native Plants. Yeah, right.

You cannot be serious. Nuking native vegetation with ORVs (as was done traditionally before the new regs) would HELP birds? Hello!!! Please explain why the birds and sea turtles plummeted until ORVs were modestly controlled in 2008 and have steadily increased since. Want stats? Read my piece.

Just got back from Hatteras...

What I found was a little disheartening. I've been loyal to the island and choose it as my vacation destination of choice over all other locations. I chose it because it was one of the few places left where I could find a long stretch of beach with no one but myself and the people I chose to come with within several hundred yards. No one to bother us, no one we could bother. We don't "joyride", cut donuts in the sand or bastardize the beaches in any way. Yes, we drive on the beaches, and we find a spot, and stop there for the day. We swim, we play games, we sunbathe, we do some fishing, and we enjoy all there is to offer, including the wildlife. We are those VA plates you described in your article. But you have really missed the mark assuming we'd be ok with parking and walking many miles in the hot sand to find that remote stretch of beach. We bought our ORV pass this year. I could have done alot with that $50 on my vacation, but I chose to spend it on the pass so that we could do what we came to do, and that is enjoy the beach. You see, we have a toddler, and a dog who also very much enjoy the beach. They also need food, water, and shade while on the beach on a hot day. And my son enjoys playing with his sand toys on the beach, and he wears a life jacket at all times while going in the water. We also need sunscreen, towels, chairs, etc. We don't have the funds to rent oceanfront. This is why we love Hatteras. We can easily take all of those things to the beach, and not have to rub elbows with hundred of others, and not have to worry about someone being afraid of our 120lb chocolate lab. We don't have to make several trips on foot to and from our soundside rental to get all of the items we need to enjoy our day. And should a storm come up...quick cover is available. This year things were a little different though. We paid money for the first time ever, and were denied access to our favorite area....South Beach. Sure, we could have walked a few miles in the hot sand with a toddler and a dog, but would that have been an enjoyable vacation experience? Probably not. I think you are maybe confusing South Beach with the Frisco ramp 49...South Beach is almost entirely closed, year round, to ORV's, and virtually inaccessible on foot for a family such as ours on foot. I didn't see ANYONE on that stretch of "pedestrian only" beach the entire week I was there, with the exception of a few that had driven to the edge of the enclosure and walked a few feet and set up a chair. And not only that, but what was left, both Cape Point, and Ramp 49 in Frisco were densely crowded. More crowded than I had ever seen this time of year. Or heck anytime of year with the exception of Oregon Inlet on a holiday weekend. It really kinda defeats the purpose of why I loved coming there. Not only that, but a handful of restaurants that I wanted to try, that I remembered from all of my previous trips down...gone! Out of business...for at least 3 years now I was told. Sure, not all businesses are gone...but enough for it to be noticeable. I'm failing to see what good these changes are making for the economy of the island, and the overall feel of it. Rules and changes were needed, and the animals need protection, but the year round closures, the closing of the inlets and spits, and that huge stretch of South Beach are overkill. The consent decree was better than what we have now. I feel awful for those people that enjoy doing what we do at the beach, but can't come later in the season when more beaches are open because their kids are in school. They are paying top dollar for an experience that has become more crowded, and I'm sure it's worse during those peak weeks. It's people like us who will eventually tire of it and go in search of new places where we can enjoy solitude, and abandon Hatteras. One last thought, in all of my years vacationing there, rarely, if ever, have I seen people driving like maniacs, running over animals, almost hitting pedestrians, any of the things you've mentioned in your article. I saw some of those things happening last year in Carova, when we were displaced by Irene. Sure we don't have to pay to drive the beach up there, and it's beautiful, and the horses are amazing...but we all came close to getting hit by a speeding car at one time or another, and the beaches were PACKED. I enjoyed it up there to an extent, but returned to Hatteras this year because it is NOTHING like that. And never has been from what I've seen.

Come and go

Restaurants come and go on Hatteras Island just like anyplace else. The only restaurant I know of that went in  Buxton was Finnegan's another restaurant open in the same building straight away.

I was specifically referring

I was specifically referring to a couple of restaurants in Hatteras. The Deli at Hatteras Landing being one of them. The Birthday Suits shop there, gone too, nothing in it's place. And what happened to Pilot House?

Hatteras Landing has had

Hatteras Landing has had trouble keeping a number of different business viable since it opened, before the consent decree. Hatteras village is maxed out  with the number of restaurants  it can support.  Old established restaurants  shut their doors in Hatteras Village long before the current resource restrictions. There are a number of  restaurants closer to where the majority of visitors are staying in Buxton and Avon that are doing just fine. The Pilot house has been out of business for 10 years or more.
There is little substantive information in what your claiming. Location, weather and road access, the national economy and competition are the overwhelming factors if a business makes it or not on HI.

"newspaper hacks"...Ted, Meet the Kettle...

From the last few retorts, it seems a few people must have hit a nerve with you, Ted. Get yourself together, man. To address your "critical habitat" claim, I distinctly remember reading an Audubon article a few years back that deemed the entire CHNS as "critical" by one of your own researchers. I'll see if I can dig that up. However, there were numerous other agencies that affirmed that particular area to hold some of the last known native (I know that's a hard word for you, Ted) vegetation in and around the seashore. Furthermore, Ida Phillips never cared to comment on anything concerning the Pine Island sale. I know the public would love to hear how the land was donated under the assertion (actually in the deed, I believe) that it would never be used for anything other than a wildlife preserve. Oh the silly dreams of a philanthropist!
Unfortunately, I have to go to work now, but don't fret, I really want to us to delve into Audubon's mantra of "Drill Baby Drill." Maybe NAS is looking to deal with oil companies now? Ha ha, of course, those would be in the name of donations I'm sure because NAS is a non-profit organization, right Ted (wink). I wonder what other environmental organizations, particularly DOWL, feel about the fact that Audubon has "never opposed drilling?"


Hey. Thanks for reading Audubon. You are really stretching when you attempt to critique my piece on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore with a statement that you can’t cite by another “researcher” who you think may once have said something in the magazine where I sell my freelance material. And you back up this nonsensical argument with talk of Pine Island which I didn’t mention in the piece, and then you go fishing in southern LA. LOL. No mainstream environmental outfit has ever opposed all drilling. If you know one, let's hear it.


When did National Parks become wildlife preserves? The actual name for Cape Hatteras is Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area as authorized by Congress. Let's carry Audubon's argument to it's natural conclusion that all National Parks be designated "primitive wilderness" and be closed to all public use. This is what you are advocating. This however would put the big Audubon money machine out of business (more than 300 million in the bank) since suing private landowners is far more difficult as they don't "rollover" like NPS.

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