Two men have been apprehended at Cape Hatteras National Seashore after the latest known violation of areas temporarily closed to protect nesting wildlife. The pair has been charged with multiple violations after their dark-of-night joyride.
The question of restricting vehicle use in parts of the seashore has been a contentious one, pitting park officials and wildlife supporters against some beach users and fans of off-road vehicles (ORVs). The park website summarizes the current, official policy:
Portions of the beach may be temporarily closed to ORVs due to mandated protection of wildlife and plant species, such as protected birds and sea turtles. Closure boundaries may shrink or expand given the specific behavior or requirements of protected wildlife. In addition, certain areas of beach may be closed due to seasonal pedestrian use or if the beach is too narrow for safe driving. Alternate routes or bypasses may be established if possible.
Attempts to find a consensus on how to manage ORV use of the park haven't met a lot of success lately, and to the dismay of responsible ORV groups, some beach-goers have engaged in a recent spate of vandalism to vent their displeasure at the restrictions. Signs and fences have been torn down, vehicles driven into closed areas, and as recently reported in the Traveler, at least one endangered sea turtle has been crushed by an ORV operating in a restricted area. An ORV group has posted a reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in that case.
There's no known connection with the turtle incident, but the latest case of deliberate entry into one of the closed areas has resulted in the apprehension of two men, Daniel Hunt, age 28, from Maryland and a local resident Brian Tillett, age 34, of Rodanthe, N.C. Charges have been issued to the pair for multiple violations.
According to park authorities, the incident occurred at approximately 2:00 a.m. on the morning of July 1, 2010, on the beach near Sea Oats Drive area, north of the Rodanthe Pier. Two separate sets of ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) tire tracks were observed driving south on the beach for approximately two miles. The vehicle entered a sea turtle protection area and performed multiple swerves, “donuts” and jumping maneuvers.
The duo apparently failed to remember that vehicles driving on soft sand leave tracks, and in this case, one set of tracks led to a cottage occupied by Hunt. Park officials say he confessed and identified the driver of the second vehicle. Hunt was charged with unsafe operation, operating an ORV in a seasonal ORV closure, entering a resource protection area in the national seashore, giving false information, disturbing wildlife and being intoxicated in the park. His ATV was seized as evidence in the crime.
Tillett was charged with unsafe operation and operating an ORV in a seasonal ORV closure and driving on a suspended license.
Park officials ask that anyone with information about this or other resource protection violations that occur in the park call the Dare Community Crime Line at 252-473-3111.
Information on where you can legally operate ORVs at Cape Hatteras National Seashore is available on the park website, along with a Google Map depiction of areas which are currently open and closed areas at this link.