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Business Survey On Cape Hatteras National Seashore ORV Management Plan's Impacts Points to Uncertainty


Uncertainties cloud business expectations at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in wake of plan to restrict ORV and pedestrian access. NPS photo.

A strong majority of businesses along Cape Hatteras National Seashore believe rules that restrict access of off-road vehicles and pedestrians for the benefit of nesting shorebirds and sea turtles will harm their operations.

But at the same time, uncertainties and outside factors that swirl around visitation to the national seashore make it hard to reach definitive conclusions on the severity of impacts to businesses there, note the authors of a survey conducted for seashore officials.

The survey (attached below) was conducted from June-September 2009, and dated August 2010, and so couldn't specifically ask businesses about the seashore's preferred alternative for managing ORV traffic that was released last fall.

The plan, expected to take effect late this year, calls for new parking areas along Highway 12 as well as new access ramps to the beach; a new trail for pedestrians to walk down through the dunes to the beach; a "seasonal night-driving restriction ... established from 9:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. during turtle nesting season, although areas with no turtle nests could open to night driving from September 16 through November 15,' and;" an "alternative transportation study and would encourage the establishment of a beach shuttle or water taxi."

Overall, the approved plan calls for 27.9 miles of year-round designated ORV routes on the seashore, 12.7 miles of seasonal routes, and 26.4 miles of vehicle-free miles.

Without knowing of that specific plan, what the survey consultant, RTI International, of Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, tried to do was select "the two action alternatives that represented opposite ends of the management spectrum for the alternatives under consideration at the time to serve as the basis for questions about the possible impact of the alternatives on revenue in the future relative to revenue in 2008. The descriptions of the alternatives captured the major features of the alternatives expected to have the biggest impact on visitation."

When asked to compare their business in 2008 vs. 2007, some respondents attributed declines in 2008 to the recession, high gas prices, changes in ferry schedules, beach closures to protect wildlife, and uncertainties over beach access. At the same time, some pointed to an increase in business due to the economy (some visitors stayed closer to home for vacations), and higher prices or management changes.

But the general theme was that restricted seashore access would be bad for business.

Some business owners reported that they do not believe the recent decrease in revenue was caused by an economic downturn, because they normally do quite well during a recession by attracting beachgoers who would normally elect for a more expensive vacation. Others said that beach driving restrictions have resulted in a loss of business mainly by driving away daytrippers. Some Ocracoke businesses noted that the current compromise on Ocracoke Island is necessary for wildlife protection and acceptable for maintaining their business, but that any additional closures would cause problems.

Without the specifics that became known last fall with the seashore's selection of its preferred alternative, and with the country's ongoing economic malaise, it was difficult for those businesses surveyed to make hard predictions about their future. Still, among the conclusions reached by the survey:

* "The majority of businesses thought that all three alternatives described in the survey would result in decreased revenue compared to 2008. A smaller number expected no change or an increase."

* "The first alternative, under which all the spits and points were closed to ORV use year-round, was expected to have the biggest negative increase."

* "Fewer businesses felt comfortable providing a quantitative forecast of the expected impact of the alternatives on revenue given the uncertainties surrounding the cause of changes in revenue between 2007 and 2008, the impact of the alternative on visitation, and the year-to-year variation in weather and nesting patterns."

* "From the businesses providing quantitative forecasts: Businesses forecast median decreases of 0% to 25% in annual revenue compared to 2008 for the first alternative described (which closed the most miles of beach to ORVs year-round). For the second alternative (which involved no year-round closures), the median change in revenue compared to 2008 ranged from a decrease of 12% to no change. Closing the soundside
ramps generated median estimates of revenue loss ranging from no change to -4%."

But uncertainty stemming from changes in travel patterns and outside economic influences also was mentioned by the survey's authors in their conclusion.

In some cases, businesses said that visitors came in 2008 not knowing about the beach closures and did not return in 2009. However, some businesses reported that although business in the spring of 2009 was down, they were seeing increased bookings for the fall or expected business in the fall to increase. Some visitors may reschedule trips from the spring to the fall to visit areas likely to be closed in the spring and early summer. Because the business survey was conducted during the summer, businesses did not have information about revenue in the fall and winter of 2009.

Forecasting future revenue in response to management changes is necessarily uncertain. Some businesses worried that 2008 would not be typical of future years for reasons discussed above. Visitation in 2008 is also confounded by the economic recession and gas prices. Businesses that want to influence the debate over the alternatives have an incentive to exaggerate the expected impacts of more restrictive alternatives on their revenue. This possibility was recognized, and the survey included questions to probe for the reasoning behind answers to some questions. In addition, the economic analysis will use other data sources in addition to the business survey to create a range of possible future outcomes.

Some respondents were hesitant to give specific numbers on possible changes in revenue that could be attributed to ORV management actions because of the many other factors affecting the economy in the last few years, uncertainty about shorebird and turtle nesting patterns, and uncertainty about the long-term reactions of visitors to changes in visitor access to the Seashore. The ranges of possible impacts, which are large in some cases, reflect the uncertainty expressed by businesses and variation present in the survey data.


Perhaps the NPS can learn a thing or two from the State of Delaware Parks.  SOME areas are restricted because of the birds, but there is always a place to surf fish 365 days a year.   Banning ORV would ruin the beach experience and destroy the tourism in certain resort areas. That, is just  bird-brained.

Well - Kurt brought up the Endangered Species Act. That's pretty much the neutron bomb of all federal laws. I've literally seen it stop private development in its tracks (look up the San Francisco garter snake for examples). No doubt there are a bunch of competing laws on the books, and it'll be up to the courts to decide.

I have not read all of it yet but, have scanned some of it so far. Speaking of the website ( history/caha) provided by Ginny in her above post. I will read all of it and particularly the letters to the people "Bankers" where promises were made as well as requests asked of them. I believe the order of the day during the time of these writings was that A Mans Word Was His Bond. I also believe the people of the villages have lived up to these requests. Are they now getting slapped in the face in return ? You have to decide that.
I think I will reserve anymore comments until I have read all this material and would strongly urge others to do the same. It is very enlightening and, I believe, clarifies the intent concerning some of the Gray areas so frequently 'Interpreted' in comments concerning the 'Enabling Legislation'. Should be on the 'Top Ten' list everywhere.
Kurt, some of the references you quoted might be easier to follow and interpret if accompanied by other statements made before, after and associated with, if that makes any sense. The overall discussion and tone associated with a topic is sometimes crucial. Please don't take offense.
Ron (obxguys)

PS: Really connects with some of what Matt eludes to in his above comment. Please don't think Matt and I are in collusion on these posts, we have never met or spoken. Same thing true of Ginny.

Well Kurt I will say that if wilderness is what they want then let them have pea island, but this will not satisfy them as they were already given pea island and now they want more. Look back a little further and realize humans changed the landscape of this island to fit there needs in the 30's with the CCC. You cannot simply reference keeping this a wilderness and preclude people from access. When they stated wilderness it was against development, not access with a vehicle. When the legislation states "other forms of recreation" people always leave out ORV's saying that is not what they meant??? How the BEEEEEP do you know? Did they also purposely leave out of the enabling legislation the use of laptops, wifi, nintendo ds, and the Frisbee? No They mentioned at the time what they believed to be beneficial recreation for the area and left the "other forms of recreation" to be decided in the future as no one at the time say the general public driving an suv or for that matter a prius!!!! Heck they did not even have a bridge allowing the traffic flow of today? Nor was the population of the area what it is today.

The main question is did we meet the mandates set by the 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 . . ."

The NPS has added Ramps and cross overs so these areas were deemed adaptable for OTHER recreational activities!!! LIKE DRIVING ON THE BEACH!

"shall be permanently reserved as a primitive wilderness?" Yes it does not get more primitive that sand and water, Though the road does take away some of this primitive wilderness, but no more than those roads through other National Parks!!! OOPS there is the dunes built by man for man and for no other reason than to make access easier for man... does primitive wilderness and the constant battle for the new bridges impacts imply we should scrap also the dune system to return the island to the state before humans????

Please environmentalist tell us how far we need to go back to please you!!!!

So the NPS is actively destroying OUR wilderness by putting thousands of stakes, signs, strings. People and ORVs are and have not destroyed any wilderness.

Ginny, thanks for linking to this report. It lays an interesting foundation for the current debate over access, which, as you no doubt know, dates back to the 1940s.

While this is certainly a tough issue for all involved, the administrative history also mentions "wilderness" and specifically references Congress's intent that Cape Hatteras contain "primitive wilderness."

Here are some of the references, including this one from the introduction:

This authorization reflected a strong desire to preserve a significant portion of the unique and “primitive wilderness” of the Outer Banks, the chain of barrier islands that guard North Carolina’s mainland coast.

The administrative history contains the following references to wilderness on Cape Hatteras: was “the great responsibility of the Federal Government to provide those forms of outdoor life and recreation which it alone can give and which are associated with the wilderness.”

...the seashore’s creation reflects the traditional thrust by progressives to promote both conservation and economic development by establishing parks that preserve wildlife and wilderness while attracting and catering to visitors.

...the group considered a bridge at Oregon Inlet likely but were also “in favor of preserving the wilderness character of the area by keeping paved roads out, if it is possible to do so.”

And, finally..

...Cape Hatteras National Seashore was not to have any designated wilderness areas despite the language of its own authorizing legislation (emphasis added)

Of course, the administrative history also points to opposition of a "primitive wilderness" on Cape Hatteras, and the need to provide for recreation. Indeed, this sentence jumps out:

...Cape Hatteras is the first national park to recognize that the federal government has a responsibility to maintain public access to the nation’s beaches.

Interestingly, sometime between 1956 and 1966 Park Service officials lamented the increased traffic on the beach, saying it would impact recreation:

During Mission 66, the impact of driving on the beaches was a major concern. Superintendent Hanks declared that “driving along the ocean shore by the public must be controlled” to reduce its impact on the recreational purposes the park was established to meet, specifically picnicking, swimming, and surf-casting, all of which “require assurance of non-intervention by shore driving.” Hanks further noted that “such protection has long been recognized by the more developed areas north to Kitty Hawk.”

Considering all of that, is it any wonder there's no clear, easy solution? The Park Service is mandated by the park's enabling legislation to preserve a wilderness setting on the cape, but also to provide recreation.

Perhaps the biggest stumbling block, however, is the Endangered Species Act, which the Park Service has to live by when it comes to bird life, marine life, and vegetation as well.

Once again, read the NPS administrative history. The park was set aside for recreation and the DOI promised a road and to support the continued development of the fledgling tourist economy that existed at the time the park was proposed. The naturalists lost on this one area and they have been trying to wiggle their way back in ever since.

Enough--150 plus miles of vehicle free and wild life refuges vs. 68 miles for recreation and that doesn't count all the sound side islands. There should be room for humans too and not just the vibrant 20-40 year old backpackers.

Artie I hope to see you one day at the point, but it will not be during the summer due to closures neither one of us will be allowed. I will say that when I go to the point I like to spend better part of a day there and you cannot do that long of a stay with children without having the items kids require sunscreen, food, water, maybe a chair for the wife and a rod in my hand. Walk all of that out and see where it gets you.

I too enjoy the outdoors to assist in keeping me in shape. I Kayak on the James river in Richmond Va, I mountain and road bike, I hike along skyline drive with the kids, I fish, ETC... but from what I have seen in my 41 years is that ones enjoyment of the outdoors does not constitute being a good steward and in fact what I mostly notice is the people responsible for closing Cape Hatteras or absentee visitors who have never been here or plan on coming.

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