Cape Lookout National Seashore Extends Comment Period For ORV Management Plan

Off-road vehicle access, one of the most contentious issues in some corners of the National Park System, is the focus of a planning effort at Cape Lookout National Seashore, where officials have extended a comment period on the matter until September 19.

Seashore officials released a draft ORV management plan earlier this year. Under the preferred alternative, ORVs would be able to travel most of Cape Lookout; the plan also would create three seasonal "pedestrian only" areas on the seashore. 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 preceding 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 preceding 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, 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 draft document can be found online at this site. Individuals and organizations can submit comments on the Plan/DEIS either online or by mail. If you mail your comments, send them to: Superintendent, Cape Lookout National Seashore 131 Charles Street Harkers Island, NC 28531. They must be postmarked Sept. 19, 2014.