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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.


A couple important points stand out about the lower image at the top of the post. One, there is a fence on the sand a short way back from the surf-line, and all the vehicles are on the water side of the fence. There are no vehicle tracks in the sand inland from the fence. 'Out of control'? It would appear the vehicles are actually firmly controlled.

Second, the image is squashed sideways, to make the scene look more crowded than it actually was.

Look at the width of the vehicles that are face-on to the camera, especially the car driving the fence-line: it's too tall & too skinny. Vehicles that are sideways to the camera are too short, the wheels too close together, and again, they're too tall.

If this is Southern Environmental Law Center's picture, I think they have some explaining to do. This image has been modified to make it look like the vehicle-presence was denser than it actually was. This sort of distortion can be done with an exotic camera-lens, but today it is of course simple to alter images digitally.

Kurt, do you have a larger version of this picture? It appears to be deceitful, and it may have been intentional. A larger version would make it easier to tell just how it was altered.

Ted, that is just the effect of a large telephoto lens. The second picture was made from a long distance away with a SLR camera and a long (300+, probably more) lens. Pictures with those lenses show a very narrow angle and that looks like it condenses space. But there is no doctoring, no deciet, just an optical law. If you look at the shadows you see that the beach was crowded and that the cars had not much more space between them than on the parking lot of a WalMart.

The other important point to remember is that this photo was taken (by earlier posted info) on a Memorial Day Weekend. OF COURSE the beaches are more crowded on any holiday weekend. The first picture is MUCH more like my experiences over the past 25 years of visiting CHNSRA 4 or 5 times a year.

Thank you also for presenting a fair and balanced account of the problem.

I completely agree that beach driving and wildlife protection can co-exist, but it's not a question of the environmental groups' willingness to negotiate. The ORV groups at Cape Hatteras are a crass bunch that has insisted on 24/7 access to all portions of the seashore. They will not permit pedestrian only areas or wildlife areas as have been proposed in the negotiated rulemaking. And they chaffe at every single seasonal restriction that the Park Service tries to impose to protect nesting species. They want an ORV corridor through areas where there are chicks on the ground, significantly increasing the chance that native shorebirds and sea turtles can get run over.

The environmental groups want about 12 miles of 67 closed during the breeding season from April 1 to around August 15 as scientists recommend. They will even allow an ORV corridor in these areas so long as the US Fish and WIldlife Service recommended buffers for nests allow room for one. When there are chicks running around, vehicle use should stop in those areas for the few weeks it takes chicks to fledge. The environmental groups want night driving restricted during turtle season -- a commonplace regulation at most every other seashore. That's it.

So yeah, there can be balance. There can be ORV use on most of the seashore year round. But what will the ORV groups accept to protect wildlife during the breeding season? So far the answer is a big fat nothing.


As I understand it, the main distortion-effect of a long telephoto lens is to shorten the apparent depth of field, and it happens uniformly all around the lens.

If telephotos caused a side-to-side compression, things would always look taller & skinnier than they should ('weird'), when viewed through a telephoto, but they don't: vertical & horizontal proportions are normal, through a telephoto.

The effect visible in this photograph isn't the normal side effect of any conventional lens: it took effort to achieve this distortion. We should view a larger version of the image: The oddness will really stand out ... as will the questions.

why would people park there cars right on the edge of a beach?no common sense perhaps?

Having seen, first hand, hundreds of cars parked at Cape Point in rows, I can attest to the validity of the photo you've called into question. It is no exaggeration and I have no doubt the photo has not been altered. Your suggestion of some devious manipulation is, itself, somewhat scurrilous. Check out the photos on the website of The Island Free Press and other websites that overtly oppose restricting ORV driving on our national treasurer.

I have to agree with "Anonymous", that "[t]he ORV groups at Cape Hatteras are a crass bunch that has insisted on 24/7 access to all portions of the seashore." I spent some time at Cape Hatteras earlier this summer and, curious about the all the silly road-side signs that appear randomly along Hwy 12, I initiated conversation with several locals about the beach-driving issue. I was shocked at how ridiculous and misinformed some locals are. For example, the check-out staff at an Avon grocery store insisted the environmental groups' true intention is to close the CHNSS beaches to all human access, permanently, forever.

People need to know that not all local residents agree with the loud and threatening proponents of unrestricted beach driving. I brought the issue up about 7 times during my visit. In 2 conversations, the locals seemed overly angry about having beach driving restrictions of any kind. But on 3 separate occasions, the locals, out of earshot of others, expressed quiet support for the wildlife protection efforts. Of these, 2 long-time residents and merchants expressed fear of the unlimited-access proponents who, apparently, are threatening and intimidating locals who openly disagree with them. A couple of merchants refused to speak about it and were visably uncomfortable when I brought the subject up. It happened twice -- one store clerk just walked off hurriedly, disappearing into the back of his store. One check-out clerk said nothing, stared down nervously as she made change and handed me my fishing bait. (Yes, I surf fish, but I walk to the beach and my fishing spot!)

It is obvious Dare County and the ORV groups who oppose NPS's current efforts to protect CHNSS's natural resources are doing so for their own self-serving benefit and gain. They seem to forget the national park is for any and all who visit the park -- not just the ORV-driving few. They ignore the fact that the Park's mission to protect wildlife and its habitat is paramount to recreation. They also fail to acknowledge that driving on Cape Hatteras National Seashore remains illegal in the absence of a management plan, in spite of the consent decree -- a consent decree that all parties, including the counties and ORV groups, negotiated and agreed to. The deplorable methods they are using to further their own self interests reveal the extremes of selfishness and ignorance. They seem to hold no regard for non-driving users of park, for the creatures that need the Seashore to exist, or for the future generations of humans and animals (if they happen to survive) who will be forever harmed by its destruction and loss.

Having worked at Cape Hatteras NS as a ranger for many years I can identify the locations for readers in these two pictures. The top picture is Hatteras Island with Hatteras Village in the background. It was taken from South of Ramp 49 in an area that is open to ORV usage before it reaches a seasonal closed area in front of Frisco village during summer months. The amount of beach that is ORV accessible is relatively small when turning south from the ramp; most visitors prefer to go north towards Cape Point. During Saturday when most of the houses turn over the beach on Hatteras is empty which is probably when this picture was taken, or later in the fall as the beach may be this beautiful until late October or early November.
The second picture is Oregon Inlet. Yes, it can be absolutely this packed every day during the summer and fall weekends. This picture is not doctored. It is crazy, it is scary, and I wouldn't go to Oregon Inlet if you paid me a ton of money. Yes, there is a symbolic fence to protect bird nests and turtle nests but people run it over. The current and tides rip through the inlet and people drown because this isn't a safe place to swim and yet people continue to flock to this insanity. At night people have fires as large as their cars, dogs run loose biting people and rangers, it's Mardis Gras moved north. And before anyone shouts me down check the public record--FOIA requests can be your friend.
Now, many ORV users can be respectful. Many users--ORVers, walkers, birdwatchers support the seashore by volunteering and removing trash, presenting programs and helping in many ways. It's not just the ORV users that volunteer to clean the beach, it's a community effort.

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