A hotly debated off-road-vehicle management plan has been put in place at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, where you need to obtain a permit to drive on the beaches as park managers strive to protect threatened and endangered species.
While a lawsuit has been filed in a bid to keep the Park Service from enforcing the management plan, so far no block has been issued against the plan.
Seashore officials describe the plan as a way to "protect and preserve the unique natural and cultural resources of this dynamic barrier ecosystem while permitting the use of vehicles on Seashore beaches and provide a variety of safe visitor experiences while minimizing conflicts among various users."
Under it, ORV drivers who intend to drive onto the beaches must purchase and display a special use permit and stay on designated ORV routes. While the ORV plan took effect February 15, Seashore officials are giving ORV drivers until March 15 to obtain their permits.
Individuals in ORVs on the beach without an ORV permit (weekly or yearly) will be contacted by park rangers and advised of the permit requirement and where to obtain the permit. If the same operator is contacted a second time during the transition period, they may be issued a written warning. If contacted a third time during the transition period, they may be issued a violation notice. Failure to obtain a permit is considered a petty offense under Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Persons issued a violation notice have the option of appearing in U.S. District Court or paying the $150.00 fine by mail.
Motorists can obtain ORV permits at the Coquina Beach, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Visitor Center (Buxton), and the Ocracoke Visitor Center. The permit offices are open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., year-round, seven days a week, except Christmas Day, with expanded hours on weekends and holidays during the summer season. The cost of an annual permit (valid for the calendar year) is $120. A 7-day ORV permit (valid from the date issued) costs $50.
Seashore crews have installed posts on the beaches to distinguish between the designated ORV routes and the vehicle free areas where recreational ORV use is prohibited, and new regulation information signs were installed at ORV ramps.
Now that the routes are marked and signs are installed, NPS rangers will enforce compliance with the designated routes and other ORV requirements, such as the 15 mph speed limit. The interactive Google Earth map on the park website has been updated to show current access status on the designated ORV routes and vehicle free areas.
For more information about the regulation and its requirements, the NPS has prepared a Frequently Asked Questions information sheet and a map showing designated ORV routes as well as pedestrian areas where ORVs are not authorized.