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Cape Lookout National Seashore ORV Plan Open For Comment Through Early September

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Public comment is being taken through September 4 on an ORV management plan for Cape Lookout National Seashore/Kurt Repanshek

Off-road vehicles would be able to travel most of Cape Lookout National Seashore under a draft management plan, which also would create three "pedestrian only" areas on the seashore.

Though not nearly as controversial as the off-road management plan at Cape Hatteras National Seashore just to the north on the North Carolina coast, the proposed Cape Lookout National Seashore Off-Road Vehicle Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement aims to put specific numbers to ORV traffic, specify where they can travel, formally set speed limits, and set seasons for when they can travel on the seashore.

Efforts to provide pedestrian only access during the summer months would cause the mileage open to ORVs to seesaw just a bit: 

Under the seashore's preferred alternative in the draft plan, 44 of the seashore's 56 miles would be open to ORVs from March 16 "through the Thursday preceding Memorial Day and from the day after Labor Day through December 15." Forty-one of those miles "would be available for ORV use from the Friday proceeding Memorial Day through Labor Day. Routes within the Cape Lookout Village Historic District would be open to through vehicle traffic."

The pedestrian-only areas would include the entire length of the seashore from December 16 through March 15. From March 16 through December 15, pedestrian-only areas would include "Portsmouth Village, an expanded lighthouse beach, and Power Squadron Spit from approximately mile marker 46 to the end of the spit, and all of Shackleford Banks."

Pedestrian-only areas would be expanded during the summer (defined as from the Friday preceeding Memorial Day through Labor Day) would include the following:

* Long Point: On the ocean beach at the Long Point Cabin Camp for a day-use beach and a separate tent camping area for a total pedestrian-only area of about 0.50 miles, to be determined by beach profile.

* Great Island: On the ocean beach at the Great Island Cabin Camp for a day-use beach and a separate tent camping area for a total pedestrian-only area of 1.9 miles, to be determined by beach profile.

* Codds Creek: On the ocean beach near Codds Creek for a total closure of 0.8 miles between ramps 35a and 35b for pedestrians only. Camping would be allowed in this area, except for the north end turtle relocation site.

* Light Station: The pedestrian-only area at the lighthouse would be expanded approximately 0.7 miles to the south and would run from ramp 41a to ramp 42a (at the NOAA weather buoy) for a total closure of about 1.4 miles year-round, to provide visitors at the ferry hub a bigger stretch of vehicle-free beach.

Under the plan, which is open for public comment through September 4, ORV speed limits would be set at 25 mph along the beach and other designated routes, or as posted, and at 15 mph when within 100 feet of any "person, vehicle, campsite, other structure..." There also would be restrictions on night driving from May 1 through September 14 each year "to reduce potential impacts to turtles and bird chicks."

The plan also would allow up to four additional "ramps" that would provide access to the ocean-side of the national seashore from the "back route" on the sound side. And it would continue a prohibition "of all high-performance sport-model and two-stroke ATVs and UTVs (after a five-year grace period) and seasonal restrictions on all other ATVs and UTVs" due to their impacts on shorebirds. According to the draft plan, these vehicles likely flush birds more than other ORVs because of the noise they generate.

Proposed fees for ORV permits range from $80 for a ten-day permit to $150 for an annual permit.

The initial limit on the number of vehicle permits issued would be 2,500 permits annually for the North Core Banks and 3,000 permits annually for the South Core Banks, which is based on the average number of ORVs delivered to each island from 2005 through 2012. A limit on the number of vehicle permits issued per year would be established in year 4 of this ORV management plan/EIS, based on the average number of permits issued per island in years 1'“3. Permits would be issued on a first-come, first-served basis. An annual lottery may be established to equitably allocate permits.

As with Cape Hatteras National Seashore, ORV use at Cape Lookout existed long before the national seashore was established. It also was not addressed in the seashore's enabling legislation.

"Beginning in the 1930s, vehicles were transported to the banks by shallow draft ferries and were used to provide access to productive commercial and recreation fishing spots, as well as for other recreational pursuits such as sightseeing and camping. Today, ORVs provide vehicular access to the Seashore beaches for recreational purposes, including activities such as surf-fishing, surfing, sunbathing, swimming, bird-watching, camping, visiting historic structures and site seeing, among other activities," the draft plan notes.

As with Cape Hatteras, sensitive species at Cape Look are driving the ORV guidelines. While some comments collected by the seashore during the planning stages suggested that the park staff move bird or turtle nests and eggs away from ORV corridors, staff said that wouldn't work as piping plovers and American oystercatchers more than likely would abandon their nests under such circumstances.

While turtle nests could be moved without concern for abandonment, "studies indicate that the determination of the hatchling sex ratio depends on the temperature at which the eggs incubate. Changes in these temperatures due to moving the eggs may result in changes to the sex ratio, having implications for the species as a whole. Handling eggs can result in increased hatch failure. When relocating nests, there is a risk of disrupting the membranes inside the egg, which can kill the embryo," the draft EIS notes.

Seashore staff also declined requests to allow for an off-leash area for dogs. While there were requests during the planning stages to include more restrooms, dump stations, and water pumps on the national seashore, park staff said those elements were not central to the off-road vehicle management plan, and so would not be considered at this time. 

You can read the entire plan, and comment on it, at this site.


Thanks Kurt for posting this. I think it  is important to add a little bit to what was the traditional use of ORVs on Hatteras Island.

Before Hatteras Island contained a NP and was a tourist destination it was a very isolated place with few people. The locals lived as far away from the ocean beach as possible all the villages were established near Pamilico sound.  The mail boat had a regular schedule and  brought most of the  supplies to the  island. Cars came before highways were established. To use vehicles local had a series of trails that connected the villages. The trails  meandered from the villages  to the beach. Sometimes the trail might be right next to the ocean at low tide sometimes it could be far inland. The  trails changed to wherever the sand was the firmest and easiest to drive on at that time.  Driving on the beach was not recreation. Eventually local fishermen started using vehicles to replace horses while  commercial beach fishing. There were a handful of visitors that came to recreate (sport fish) on the ocean beach. Getting here was difficult. When state roads connected all the villages to the north end of Pea Island and the state ferry beach driving primarily  became a recreational  use.

 Few visitors in the beginning came to the NP with an over sand vehicle. The traditional access to the beach for recreation by visitors to the NP was by foot. I know this because I regularly visited the National Park in the late 1950's and that is what we and everyone else did, we seldom saw vehicles on the beach and in some areas we never saw them.  The ORV ramps were originally constructed for commercial haul seine beach fishermen to get their beach  dories  over the artificial dunes because the Enabling Legislation had guaranteed that the legal residents of the villages had the right to continue to commercial fish on the NP beach.

More government control and regulation, just never stops. I believe they do this just to justify there existence and grow the beauracracy. I haven't seen any evidence, like Hatteras, that these new regulations are neccesary. Fixing a problem that doesn't exist...

I been there a few times, but is a little far for me. I submitted comments but I know from experience public comments mean nothing, unless it supports the NPS's preferred plan. A lot folks I know started going there to escape the over regulation of Hatteras. 


I think people are going there because Lookout use to look like Hatteras many years ago. Many many of us who live here and vacation here think the rules were long overdue and are an incredible compromise for a National Park to satisfy one special interest group, ORV users.

All I can say is Lookout needs to addresed so it's management  is in line with the rest of the Seashores and Lakeshores. There will still be miles to drive on.

You always have Padre Island.

I fail to see anything remotely called a compromise at CHNSRA. Buxton, you are in minority with your position and you know it. 

How long will it be before Padre Island gets in line with rest of the NPS's over regulation? I'll bet sooner than later. 


"More government control and regulation, just never stops."


Right, government control likely will not stop on government-owned land, nor will the government likely stop regulating the use of land owned by the government in trust for all people.

That is a good thing.

The more the federal government regulates land that they call "theirs" the better the argument for local control of public lands.  And I never thought I would be one to say that.  Local control means that these bureaucrats are answerable to someone, unlike the NPS who answers to no one but themselves with no oversight.  Please create an NPS oversight committee NOW.  It is way overdue.  How do we have any agency that can make sometimes arbitrary, unilateral and consequence free decisions?  What other agencies can implement fees and taxes upon taxpayers without an act of congress or restrict which taxpayers can use these lands?  No one but the NPS/Forest Service/BLM.  Tell me there isn't something systemically wrong with that system?

Backpacker--You have to remember which branch government gave those agencies the authority to determine fee structures.



Just because one group (ORV users) can scream louder does not make them a majority. I might not be in a majority on HI but it doesn't mean I am not in the majority nationally. In any case you ought to see all the people down here right now. The ORV regs haven't slowed them down one bit. Padre Island has a much different EL than CAHA and Texas law establishes beaches as roads or some such nonsense.

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