The Battle Over a North Carolina Beach Continues

The Battle Over a North Carolina Beach Continues

On Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a revolutionary management plan is finally putting embattled sea turtles and birds on near-equal footing with ORV drivers. But powerful interests are working hard to undo it.

By Ted Williams/Photography by Emiliano Granado
Published: September-October 2012

"Restricting ORV use on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore has a negative impact on local communities and the local economy," proclaims Senator Burr. Nosing this popular untruth all the way from Bellevue, Washington, the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise descended on the Outer Banks like a blowfly to a squashed shorebird. In one of his "Conservative Action Alerts," entitled "Big Green Beach Bullies Strangling Cape Hatteras Families," the center's executive vice president, wise-use guru Ron Arnold, accuses Audubon and Defenders of Wildlife of "choking off the lifeblood of communities that depend on" the seashore.

But in the four years since the consent decree restricted beach-driving, Dare County, which includes the seashore, has prospered while North Carolina's other coastal counties have not. Occupancy tax revenues hit a record high in 2010 and a near-record high in 2011, despite Hurricane Irene, which blocked road access to Hatteras Island from August 27 to October 10. Hatteras Island visitors spent $27.8 million on lodging in July 2010, an all-time record until July 2011, when they spent $29.59 million. Visitation to the entire seashore has hovered between a 2006 low of 2,125,005 and a 2009 high of 2,282,543. And the state reports that during the period of recession from 2009 to 2010, Dare County experienced an 8.8 percent growth in tourism, from $766.56 million in 2009 to $834.29 million in 2010.

Why the boom? I asked Golder. "Visitors can now go to the beach without worrying about getting run over," he replied. "They can walk without having to slog through eight-inch-deep tire ruts. They can have a memorable, safe experience without all these vehicles blasting by them. I think people have enjoyed the return of birds to the beach."


Ever since I linked my "Beach Bums" piece in a fishing/conservation blog I administer for Fly Rod & Reel magazine, I've been accused of being "anti-fishing" by anglers who run ORVs on the Outer Banks. That's like accusing the "real Ted Williams," as I've heard him called to my chagrin, of being "anti-baseball." From some of the posted invective I could have told the Park Service it was wasting taxpayer money and everyone's time with negotiated rulemaking. Herewith, a couple of the politer comments: "BS! JUST LOTS OF BS. YOU SUCK TED!" and: "Showing your true colors there Ted!!! Nice, how much did Defenders of Wildlife, Southern Environmental Law Center, and Audubon pay you to say that?"

But this contingency only outshouts other beach anglers; it doesn't come close to outnumbering them. The national perspective was apparent in comments such as this: "I have fished all the spots at Cape Hatteras over nearly four decades. The new plan to manage ORV use is the best thing that has happened for the seashore. . . . ORVs on the beaches were totally out of control. . . . So managing this mess is not just about birds or turtles, it is about a better experience. There are many of us sportsmen down here in Carolina quietly cheering on the enviros. Don't believe this crap about not being able to drive anywhere on the beach or that you can't get to a good place to fish. The loudmouths around Hatteras have had their way for too long. They need to get over it. Hatteras is going to be a better place for birds, turtles, and true sportsmen. Thanks for your help, Ted."

After I'd said goodbye to my guides I dug out my binoculars and pointed my rental car north on Route 12, stopping every few miles to glass shorebirds and waterbirds settling onto newly protected habitat. I recalled all the boot prints I'd left here and on other Atlantic beaches with angler friends for whom sharing space with wildlife makes fishing far more than just sport.

Why is it so different on the Outer Banks? Until 1954, when the seashore got its first superintendent, locals had been allowed to do anything they pleased. And from then until 2008 they'd been allowed to do almost anything they pleased. They've never liked feds, especially feds who tell them they can't do things they and their elders have done all their lives and then make them pay for what's left. And they've never liked environmentalists, especially those from away who come in and dictate beach policy by suing misfeasant managers.

But national seashores belong to all Americans, not just a few loud, local property-rights radicals who have bullied and lied their way to dominance. The current ORV plan is a decent starting point. Now it's time for all wildlife advocates to stand up and speak for vanishing creatures that can't speak for themselves. 

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Take action Let your members of Congress know that you support a balanced approach to protecting the Cape Hatteras Seashore for ALL visitors--wildlife AND people, at

This story originally ran in the September-October 2012 issue as "Beach Bullies."

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Ted Williams

Ted Williams is freelance writer.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine


Just an FYI, during the

Just an FYI, during the summer, up until the last two weeks of August, there is much, much less than 20 miles open.
Just in time for peak season to end, things tend to open back up somewhat.

That is a problem

With the drastic increase  in visitation during those months and considering the resource  issues (nesting birds and turtles),  all beach driving  should have been restricted during that time. The rest of Dare County Beaches  (Nags Head, KDH, and Kitty Hawk) are closed to vehicles then.

Since a large majority of

Since a large majority of what is close to vehicles during that time is closed to pedestrians as well, that would just about all but restrict use of CHNS beaches to what's in front of the villages, if they were to use your idea and close it, since that's what the Northern Beaches do. Considering not everyone can rent oceanfront or even oceanside, and there aren't any parking areas within the villages for public access...well, I'm sure you can imagine what that would do to tourism and the economy.

If that were true it might.

If that were true it might. The reality is there is still plenty of parking for non ORVers to access VFAs in the park. The proff of which is the excellent tourist season that Hatteras Island And Ocracoke island are continuing to have.

Why it's Not "Equal" to You

Of course it’s “not equal” to you. That’s because you don’t understand that less than 50 percent for ORV access during critical times for wildlife doesn’t translate to an “advantage” for wildlife. ORVs don’t have to breed on the beach, raise young on the beach, feed on the beach, deal with alien predators on the beach, stage for migration on the beach. ORV access increases when wildlife use decreases. And if you imagine that ORV advocates are treated unfairly at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, compare access there to access at other national seashores like. Cape Canaveral, for instance, (zero) or Cape Cod (approaching zero most of the time).

ORV beach driving in OBX

The terminology of Motorheads or people driving huge off road vehicles on the beach is nonsense.I have been visiting the Outerbanks for 33 years and the visitors, specifically the fishing public and locals do more to preserve nature on the island then anywhere else i have ever visited.Think about it who has more interest in preserving what they actually utilize, and cherish more than the outdoor enthusiast and locals who visit Hatteras Island! The majority of the uneducated comments seem to obviously come from people with no knowledge of the situation.Keep sending your hard earned money to organizations that are more interested in money and power then nature and people.

"Preserving Nature" as Defined by ORV Advocates

In their own words here and in their printed literature and blogs ORV users define “preserving nature” as picking up trash left by others, including other ORV users. Sorry, that doesn’t cut it.

Cape Hatteras National Parking Lot by the Sea

The comment on this blog that the pro ORV side is spewing their lies and getting their clientele to contact congress, using thosw lies as talking points, is correct. The more they tell their lies, the more they believe them.and the unknowing clientele knows no better.
All we can hope is that the followers of Audubon across this nation speak up and let the real facts be known, else the squeaky wheel of ORV greed will get greased and we will be at fault for not educating the public with the real facts.

Right, the OBPA sued for big

Right, the OBPA sued for big bucks. They're raking in the cash, not. You morons just don't get it, these new policies have gone to far, are not based on sound science, and poorly developed. No one is saying remove the policies or regulations, but make them not so extreme. There is LARGE group of Americans, (and your reading all their complaints) they routinely visit CHNSRA that have experienced the new policies and are not happy about it. They know that it did not have to be this extreme to provide adequate species protections. They know the NPS went to far with the "pedestrian only areas" that are really used as access control tool. They don't think the thousands of new "NO" signs are necessary and take away from the beauty of HI. They now see the NPS made these policies to achieve Audubon and DOI's agenda to remove people Hatteras. AND they will not give up easily.

More right wing conspiracy theories

"They now see the NPS made these policies to achieve Audubon and DOI's agenda to remove people Hatteras."

Amazing you ORVers just cant step out of character,  just have to come up with some tea party right wing conspiracy theory, just like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

I don't have a clue how much money  the OBPA, NCBBA, CHAC have gathered and how much other organizations have contributed because it is not easily accessible. I know Dare County commissioners co-signed  with the legal proceedings and have already used a bunch of my tax money in legal fees and that really pisses me off. Any day now I expect some county car to come down highway 12 with one of those huge third world speakers telling everyone to call their congressmen and sign a petition condemning the NPS, or else!

If the regs are rescinded it won't be just the wildlife that will suffer. The shoulder seasons for vehicle free areas in front of the villages will be shrunk back to 4 months and there will be no vehicle free areas in the Park during the other 8 months. The reason why pedestrians can't access a good part of the shoreline during nesting season now is because the powerful local organizations (NCBBA, CHAC, OBPA) want it that way. They were and still are afraid that if people get used to walking (like they did when the park was opened) that beach driving soon won't be an issue for visitors. Even with the ugly signs and stupid restrictions that keep pedestrians from walking the tideline to get around closed resource areas, visitors to the park are still coming and by all appearances telling their friends what a great place CHNS.  

You don't have to drive a car on the beach to engage in recreational activities in this park. The entire shoreline of PINWR is a perfect example of that, easily accessed by foot with literally 100's of people doing that on a daily basis. There are some places in CHNS where walking is difficult (couple of miles) (but fine for the fit). None of the environmental organizations  (Audubon or Defenders) sought or stated they wanted all beach driving in the park stopped.  The ORV access organizations have always been the side that won't cooperate or compromise. The bill before congress is a perfect example of that.

Your right the OBPA lawyers got a big check from the goverment when they won the first critical habitat lawsuit, not the OBPA.

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