Cape Hatteras, Where The 'National Seashore' Concept Was Born

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Climbing the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse offers panoramic views of the Outer Banks/Kurt Repanshek

Sun, salt spray, and sand are the main ingredients for a traditional Outer Banks vacation. Here on the North Carolina coast, where barrier islands bare the brunt of the Atlantic Ocean, families have been coming for decades to enjoy not only those aspects of summer but some of the best fishing along the Atlantic coast. The experience is so good that the National Seashore concept was born right here in 1937 when Congress authorized Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Stretching more than 70 miles from Nags Head south to Ocracoke Inlet, the seashore draws those interested in history (during World War II the waters off the national seashore were thick with German U-boats that time and again targeted, and sank, unprotected merchant ships), surfcasting (fishing is particularly good in the fall when drum and bluefish are running), or simply flying a kite and enjoying the surf.

Towns that dot the seashore— Nags Head, Rodanthe, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, Hatteras Village, and Ocracoke—are all popular destinations. So picturesque and romantic is Rodanthe that it was the backdrop for a 2008 movie starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane, Nights in Rodanthe. But the other towns are steeped in that seaside charm, too.

Visitors have a rich variety of activities to choose from: bird watching here along the Atlantic Flyway, shell hunting (winter and fall offer some of the best finds), fishing, of course, and solitude for early risers, late evening strollers, or simply walkers heading up or down the beach away from any crowds.

Campers have four campgrounds to consider—at Oregon Inlet, Frisco, Ocracoke, and Cape Point—and lighthouse lovers have three to admire— Ocracoke Light, Bodie Island Light, and Cape Hatteras Light (though access is only permitted to the last two).

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Surf fishing is one of the top draws to Cape Hatteras National Seashore/NPS

History fans will find the restored Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station of interest. Crews from that station gained fame in 1918 when they braved burning waters to save 42 from the Mirlo, a gasoline-carrying British steamship that hit a mine planted by a German U-boat. The explosion ignited a layer of gasoline atop the ocean waters. According to historical accounts, the men rowed their surfboat through a “hellish environment that blistered paint on their boat, burned their skin, and singed their hair and clothing...”

If You Go

Plan far ahead to make lodging reservations, as Cape Hatteras has a deep and loyal following of vacationers. Spring and fall are the best times to fish; by the middle of summer fishing is best offshore. Winter fishing can be productive, but the weather is harsh and sometimes dangerous.

Winds that sweep across Pamlico Sound on the back side of the barrier islands produce excellent windsurfing and kite boarding. Many windsurfers and kite boarders use the Salvo Day Use and Haulover day use areas on Hatteras Island.

Ocracoke Inlet was the favorite anchorage of the notorious pirate Blackbeard (Edward Teach). Blackbeard was finally killed in a battle near there on November 22, 1718. His decapitated body was thrown overboard into the inlet.


The full name of the “Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area” is historically accurate and serves to remind us today of the unique recreational heritage of the first national seashore. The founding pioneers called it by this name at the official dedication ceremony. Preserving this name will help future generations understand the history, tradition and recreational purpose of the “Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area.”

Tell you what, Beach, you can stick with that name if you agree that the enabling legislation also specifically stated that, "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 . . .

More spinning by Beachdumb. He knows the original name and intent was Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The original name and the name everyone but ORVers use today, The Act was amended and the "And Recreational Area" was added to allow waterfowl hunting in the Park. At that time the only legal way to allow hunting (migratory waterfowl only) was if it was a recreation area hensforth the addition.

Sec. 4. 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…

Kurt, I am not the one trying to change name or hide the inconvient parts of the enabling legislation.

"Certain portions of the area."

So, Beach, then you'd be OK if those "certain portions" were the areas directly in front of the towns, and most of the rest was finally set aside as wilderness, something the enabling legislation called for? And if not, what areas would you approve for wilderness legislation?

My interpretation is that certain forms of recreation that would be specific to a seashore would be developed/ approved, unless. The rest of the EL doesn't equicocate, "no development of the project or plan for the convenience of visitors" etc. Beachdumb how could this not be any clearer or more straight forward?

I have hard time grasping that human access via foot, horse or ORV significantly modifies an area or invalidates 'primitive wilderness'.

Is not the creation of new ramps, boardwalks and parking lots the development of the project plan for the conveniece of visitors?

"which would be incompatible with the preservation of the unique flora and fauna or the physiographic conditions now prevailing in this area…"

I think wilderness needs to be set aside in more national parks, than just this one. I know there is a bill in place for Crater Lake, and they have a sliver of wilderness proposed at Cape Lookout National Seashore, but nothing has moved in congress. The only recent wilderness was at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and a few years ago something like 95% of Rocky Mountain National Park became designated wilderness.. Getting wilderness set aside within National Parks helps keep the ORV and mountain biking groups at bay. The states of California, Colorado, and Washington were very proactive in creating wilderness in their National Parks

I think it's well past time to get National Seashores, along with Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Great Smokies, Crater Lake, and most of the parks in Utah wilderness.

Does Cape Hatteras or Cape Lookout even have a friends group? Seems like they need one. And then those groups can push for wilderness on both National Seashores and have more of a standing in fighting back the ORV hordes from destroying the landscape. Jeez, when I look at all the pictures from these seashores, and compare it to Cumberland Island or the Olympic Coast that has designated wilderness, it's like night and day. Cape Hatteras seems very denuded, and that's because of the ORV useage.

The Smokies is supposed to be managed as a wilderness area already so that formal designation is irrelevant.

Actually, that's not accurate. Managed as wilderness is a different designation than official wilderness that was designated and set aside by congress via the wilderness act. They could still techincally build the "broken promise" highway even if it's "managed as wilderness", if some superintendent came in and decided to approve it. They could approve single track bike tracks currently. If it was set aside as wilderness then it would take an act of congress to reverse the act, and the superintendents, as well as the park would have to follow different rules. In the west there are many "wilderness study areas". Just because those areas have "wilderness" in the name, doesn't mean it's managed like what it is in a designated wilderness. The parks without that designation can use ATVs, Chainsaws, and even vehicles to do trail maintence if they wanted, they can also build structures, which has been the case in Glacier (and yes like the Smokies it's managed as wilderness). In wilderness areas, that is not the case - the rules and legislation even in regards to the agencies that manage them must follow stricter rules and regulations for wilderness guidelines. There would be no use of chainsaws, no vehicles, and no building of structures in the wilderness zones.

From my experiences, the parks with designated wilderness are some of the wildest places in our country. I spent a lot of time in Craters of the Moon National Monument, and the wilderness has about a 3 mile trail, that then fades out, and from there you can trek 40 miles and not find another trail. Same goes with the Petrified Forest National Park, it's got about a 3/4 mile trail that is maintained, the rest of the wilderness you will be lucky to find evidence of human activity. Nothing else is maintained. You don't find many foot bridges in real wilderness areas, either. I can recall many hard stream crossings in wilderness areas in the west, and not a foot bridge, other than maybe a tree that fell over the creek that you use as a balance beam.

Is CHNSRA actually a National Park since it was not created under the authority of the Antiquities Act?

Antiquities act is for a president to declare an area a National Monument. Only congress has the ability to create a National Park, or a designated Wilderness Area..

In my humble opinion National Park Designated Wilderness > USFS, or BLM Designated Wilderness > National Park > National Monument in terms of protecting resources.

"I have hard time grasping that human access via foot, horse or ORV significantly modifies an area or invalidates 'primitive wilderness'."

We all know you do. The above is your words, beachdumb, with my emphasis.

You not knowing how an ORV could "modify or invalidate" wilderness is all the more reason why you should not be allowed to use them there. Joyride your toy around your own backyard for a while, and then bring in a stranger and see if they can identify where you were driving.

Rick, I am talking about beach sand, big difference, responsibly staying within designated trails, don't tell me these other "primitive wilderness" don't have trails or footpaths either.

The amazing thing about the beach is that with every storm the tracks are virtually erased. You should experience it one time, there are many ORV accessible National Seashores to do so.

Rick B

The entire beach from the toe of the dune as close as you want to the surf edge is an ORV trail. You can park on any part of it you want. In front of the ramps and in the more sought after fishing areas the ruts criss cross back and forth some 16" or more deep from the toe to the surf. Yep after a big storm a lot of it can be flattened back out until they are at it again. It is incredilious that Beachdumb can't see how that is a problem for others.

Yup. I live in Alaska, not the eastern seaboard, but have been on many beaches in my day. I am very familiar with what ORV do to any ground surface, whether sand, dirt, snow bank, moss, or bird eggs.

People who make big footprints tend not to notice the toes of others under their boots.

Yeah it baffles me that he can't see what ORVs can do. First, if you have a leaky truck dripping oil, or antifreeze, that causes an effect on the environment, and to say that "no trucks are leaking any fluids on the beach is complete nonsense". Multiply that by thousands of vehicles, and you have some issues. Multiply that by 10s of thousands, then all the sudden it's beyond an issue. As I've stated, its amazing how much different cumberland island looks compared to Hatteras. Cumberland Island looks like it has a lot more vegetation, the dunes are a lot more uneven, and the ruts are no where to be found in many areas. Cape Hatteras looks wrecked in comparrison.

The gang here will be happy to know that more beach, tripling the size, closed in front the houses in Avon today. The least tern, a not federally listed species, is expected to take a month or two to fully fledge, starting at the height of the tourism season. You all should be proud that there will be a lot less foot prints on the beaches. A huge victory for your fight against human access and tourism.

If you plan on renting a house at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, be prepared to not have access to the beach in front your house. You'll need your big oil powered vehicle to search for beach access elsewhere.


Um, Gary, I hate to ask, and I suspect Kurt wishes I wouldn't ask; but since you wrote:

Getting wilderness set aside within National Parks helps keep the ORV and mountain biking groups at bay

What personal value of yours do you find threatened if the NPS fails to keep "mountain bike groups at bay"? Just curious.

Kurt, please delete this question if you perceive it's leading to another off-topic debate, as I think happened with the drones and LGBT articles.

The discussion of LGBT issues was on-topic for an article on LGBT issues.

I still don't get what a "national seashore" is, other than a national park with a coastline, which is still often named a national park (e.g., Channel Islands National Park).

I was hoping this article might provide more of an explanation behind the "concept" of a national seashore.

Hi, Rick B. — Right; but if I recall correctly, I think I was guilty of somehow slipping mountain biking into the LGBT discussion! :-)

As you say, Mr. Immtnbke.

I still don't get what a "national seashore" is, other than a national park with a coastline, which is still often named a national park (e.g., Channel Islands National Park).

I was hoping this article might provide more of an explanation behind the "concept" of a national seashore.

I thought it was supposed to be a designation as being of natural and recreational significance as a preserved area. Which has been recently transformed into meaning a wildlife refuge, I see no difference at this point. Preserved for the public, where public access should be the priority...

NPT appears to be just a mouthpiece for the eco groups like Southern Environmental Law Center, so the concept is thier desired spun interpretation.

Maybe the National Park Service should create a new National Park at the border of Mississippi and Alabama. It could be a big 50,000 acre place and they could name it Teabaggistan National Park. Ted Cruz could be the superintendent, and Sarah Palin the deputy. No rules, no LE, and anything goes. Since it would be devoid of trees, wildlife, and all minerals in a few weeks, there wouldn't be a need for resource management either. It could be a complete playground for ORVs and Mountain Bikers since theyll be allowed to go ANYWHERE. Mountain Bikers could run over walkers while flying down their single tracks and not have to worry about pesky lawsuits for being at fault. ORVs could run over mountain bikers and hikers. It would be paradise for your casual NPT troll, and they would be sated because they would finally have their own National Park the way they want it. "Come to Teabaggistan National Park - a playground for Real Patriotic Americans".

I thought it was supposed to be a designation as being of natural and recreational significance as a preserved area.

This clearly mangles what Sec. 4 above actually states.

Congress has come up with some very creative labels for new parks lately.

And Gary, your Teabaggistan National Park idea is great. No facility maintenance either. When the sewers back up, they call it a lake. Perhaps Lake Notreadonme. Then those folks who love to buzz others on their personal watercraft can have a blast splashing yellow water on all the people fishing for crappie from their big houseboats.

(Sorry, I just came in from the big air show at Hill Air Force Base and may be experiencing a small dose of sunstroke.)

Gary Wilson, as a fellow liberal, I ask that you please stop posting rude comments regarding the teaparty. Your's are played out, generalized, not witty at all, and make us look bad.

Regarding this topic, If you want to see what a true wilderness area looks like and if ORV activity has an impact on the flora and fauna, look to Anza Borrego State Park and Ocotillo Wells ORV area. They share a border and are a good case study. I dont think many people could objectivley say that the ORV activity has had no significant impact on the area. You simply cannot compare the pristine wilderness of Anza Borrego with Ocotillo Wells. The impact is just too evident in the ORV area.

Is that a data driven statement? No, but it is realistic. In my opinion, ORV activity and the culture is simply in contradiction to the accepted and legal definiton of wilderness.


I try to keep my personal politics out of the fray and hesitate to make assumptions about other's comments and political persuasions. But sometimes the best way to fight fire is with fire. I think Gary's comments are spot on and witty. It is cost Beachdumb and his ilk should experience.

I am glad Beachdumb is so forthright, he makes my case stronger and I listen very carefully to what he is saying.

I second Buxton's motion. All in favor?

Ignoring the Tea Party and the harm their proposals will cause if they come to pass would be disastrous. The foolishness and potential harm of it all needs to be exposed lest it actually come to pass. Satire is an often effective means of exposing foolishness.

I remember reading in the administrative history of CHNSRA how they struggled with naming and designation of the area because the island was so heavily modified by the CCC. I think I'll read it again today..

"The DOI, NPS and environmental groups led the public to believe that the purpose of the ORV rule was to bring CHSNRA into compliance with two executive orders from the 1970s. In fact, the purpose was to institute far-reaching restrictions on public access by using ORVs as the scapegoat."

This is the unfortunate truth of what has happened.

Thank you Rambler. I'm amazed Kurt lets that filth stand.

ECBuck, maybe they can make you head realtor at Teabaggistan National Park. You can help initiate the sale of the public land and naming rights to Cabellas, and they can rename it Camoland National Corporate Amusement Park.

In all seriousness, and sadly, even if this is just a poor attempt at satire, this exact scenario is playing out with the Cape Hatteras National Seashore with these ORV groups. You guys can stick your heads in the sand and deny it, but these ORV groups are attempting to undermine the Park, and its overall mission.

And if you paid any attention, Gary, instead of just casting apertions, you would have noted that I have not supported either side in this argument other than asking for substantiation of facts. In fact, I was the only one to ask Beach to substantiate his claim Fish and Wildlife had found the management plan ineffective and when he produced a document, I pointed out it fell short of saying the plan was ineffective.

People here have a difference of visions. Some believe the parks need to be more wilderness others believe recreation is a valid component. That doesn't mean either side is "bad" or that sexual slurs need to be used. Grow up. Respect people and maybe they will give your arguments more respect.

Folks, we're going to shut this thread down. At the same time, I would have to agree that comments -- on both sides of this issue -- have gotten away from civil discourse, a disturbing development of late.

There are several ways we can handle this sort of problem in the future: simply do away with comments; ban those who can't discuss issues surrounding the parks constructively and without demeaning or disparaging others; require folks to use their real, full, names with hopes that will persuade them to be civil.

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