The unauthorized removal of vehicle blockades at Cape Hatteras National Seashore has prompted officials there to shut down a public access ramp near Buxton, North Carolina.
This marks the second time this year that vandalism has forced the National Park Service to restrict access to the seashore in an effort to protect nesting piping plovers, a threatened species.
Ramp 45 had been closed to off-road vehicle access since May 21 due to the hatching of plover chicks in the area, although pedestrian access was being allowed.
According to seashore officials, sometime early Monday morning someone entered the area on foot "after tossing the vehicle barricades into the brush along the side of the sand route on the back side of the Cape Point Campground. The 202-campsite campground was full for the Memorial Day holiday weekend."
"Upon further investigation another vehicle barricade was found to be missing from the Inter-dunal Road and symbolic resource protection closure fencing was destroyed along the Ramp 45 route," the officials added. "Approximately 34 signs and sign posts were broken or pulled out. The remains of two beach fires were found near the shoreline. The two fires had been covered with sand but were still hot and smoldering. Evidence of the remains of sign posts and the vehicle barricade were found in the fire pits. There were numerous foot tracks found around the fire pits but no vehicle tire tracks were found in the area."
Access to the seashore has been particularly contentious ever since the Park Service was sued by Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society for failing to have a formal ORV management plan. While seashore officials are trying to finalize such a plan now, they have been managing ORV access to the beaches under a court-ordered consent decree. That decree mandates "that if a confirmed deliberate act that disturbs or harasses wildlife or vandalizes fencing, nests, or plants occurs, the National Park Service (NPS) shall automatically expand the buffers."
As a result of that mandate, the Park Service had not alternative but to close Ramp 45.
"The expansion will remain in effect until shorebirds have finished using the respective areas for breeding activities," the agency said.