Monday, April 21, 2008

Am I the only one who thinks driving on the beach is silly?

**UPDATE- Wow, this post has attracted more attention than I expected, especially now that it's getting linked to from several recreational fishing forums. Originally it was just an expression of my personal opinion about beach driving; I'd rather we drove on the road and walked on the beach. I didn't mean to imply that I categorically support all aspects of the National Park Service's current obx beach closure plan. However, because of the strong response, I've done my best to weigh in, fairly, with regards to the NPS plan in the comments section. Please read the other comments and my replies before adding your own. I will do my best to respond to everyone, but will give priority to non-anonymous posters.**

**Also, FYI, I love fishing. Anyone who knew me growing up can attest to how obsessed with it I can be. So just because I characterize beach driving fishermen as "whiners" in the next paragraph doesn't mean that I'm down on fishing itself. I think it's a great way for all ages to get out and learn about nature and stuff.**

It seems like everybody is freaking out now about the proposed closing of some Outer Banks beaches to off-road vehicles to protect nesting birds and turtles. The loudest whiners are the recreational fishermen, who will apparently shrivel up and die if they are forced to walk more than 20 feet from their 4x4s to reach the water. Some people in the windsurf / surf / kiteboarding community are pretty upset too, because the closures will make it harder for them to launch from certain "secret spots" on the oceanfront. And there is concern among local businesses that the beach-driving prohibition will reduce tourism revenues.

Most of the perspectives on this that I have read so far in the blogosphere have been pro 4x4, so I thought I would share my own, alternative perspective. Don't hate me.

1. Beach driving is tacky.

In a vast and sparsely populated wilderness you can blow stuff up, chop things down, roar around in all manner of vehicles, and shoot or hook just about any critter that wanders by without causing irreparable harm to the environment or bothering your neighbors. Needless to say, the Outer Banks are no longer such a place; the islands are shrinking while human development on them is growing. Unfortunately some mindsets and traditions persist from the free-for-all wilderness days; namely, beach driving mania. I'm sure it was fun back in the day when it wasn't so crowded, but now it's just cheesy and obnoxious. With paved roads that go almost everywhere, and numerous parking and public access areas, even piers and boardwalks for the disabled, nobody really NEEDS to drive on the beach to get a decent fishing, sunbathing, or boardsports experience.

2. Beach driving really does put cute endangered species at risk of extinction.


The environmental impact of beach driving is not just propaganda from "eco nazis". Animals are significantly less likely to nest, and less likely to successfully produce young when they do nest, in areas where driving is allowed. It's not the sweet, dumb birds and turtles' fault that they need to nest on the beach. (Which is why people who blame the animals are assholes and I will never stop at a surf shop that has THIS stupid sticker on the door.) It's just that the critters evolved over millions of years to specialize in a certain type of beach and dune habitat, and now they can't live without it. While both people and animals want the same areas, only the critters actually NEED them to survive. And I'm not just talking about the survival of individuals; were talking about extinction, at least in the case of the much-maligned Atlantic Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus). So, I think we have an ethical obligation to set aside adequate areas for the beach-dependent wildlife, even if it's moderately inconvenient for us.

We can adapt. People have been frolicking and fishing on beaches for thousands of years, but the dumb idea that we need giant motor vehicles for our beach play has only been around for a handful of decades. It's time to go retro and put our toes, not our tires, in the sand again.


Anonymous said...

Hi James
I think you're absolutely spot on - it might have been forgivable in the 60's when there were a fraction of the number of cars driving to these places and the space available to nature was much greater.
I guess, given the environmental impact of 4x4s you can't expect much better from the people that drive them.

Paul Richardson said...

I hear ya, bro. My parents used to drive us onto the beach back in the 70s; it would get pretty crowded back then, too. I have abstained for the most part.

My brother-in-law drove us onto the beach in Corrola a couple of years ago during our annual beach week, and I did NOT enjoy it. I was too nervous that my 2 year old would wonder out and get squished by some speeding Excursion.

The other drawback is that it's hell on your truck. Sand gets into the moving parts and eats them up; and if you drive in the water, look out, the salt will KILL your truck, which might not be such a bad thing...

Bill said...

Hey James,

Yea, I do agree with you about how the pure numbers of ORV is the main factor. Before the popularity of SUVs, ORV use was limited; however, now that "everyone" drives an SUV, whether for sport or hauling the kids, they end up on the OBX beaches. Many simply "drive" on the sand just to "drive on the sand."

Regarding windsurfing, most of our regular wavesailing spots will not be affected. The gear hike at some locales can be pretty far so ORV access is necessary not only to get to the ocean, but to find the ideal break (given shifting sandbars).

I would be all for a paid permitting tag similar to what the town of Nags Head uses for ORV access. Additionally, use needs to be confirmed if the ORV owner is not a Dare or Hyde country resident. Therefore, if its a fisherman from Raleigh, or Richmond, they would have to buy a ORV use permit with verification of a valid NC surf fishing license (which is required now anyway). ORVs without a permit would be prohibited. It would be fairly easy to police since the numbers would significantly decrease.

All in all, rather than restriction, better management seems to be the key solution.

Charles said...

Hi James,

Ignorance is bliss, and your ignorance of the beach driving issue must have you in a state of euphoria. Have you ever driven down or visited the Outer Banks? I would bet money that on the drive down any weekend that you would pass at least 5 mammalian roadkill and at least 5 avarian roadkill. Maybe we should ban driving on Hwy 12 because it kills animals in the park? At least that would give you a reason not to visit. The environmentalists would like to close the area known as "Kite Point" south of Canadian Hole and ban parking along Hwy 12 between Buxton to Avon. If you can't find a parking space in Canadian Hole, you'd have to rent a house to access the water. Is that the best management of a public resource? When there are beach closures for wildlife rsources, they are closed to all human entry. So forget about walking twenty yards to fish or surf, you wouldn't even be able to touch the sand.
This whole beach driving issue is about finding a compromise that is acceptable to both the recreational and environmental aspects of the park. I'm for compromise, I don't have any tolerance for people like yourself with the attitude that it has to be all or nothing. We already have a National Wildlife Refuge at Pea Island and across the sound from the Cape Hatteras National Recreational Seashore. I think that the current system of managing ORV use at Cape Hatteras is working fine.

James Douglass said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. I appreciate the different perspectives here.

Crash and Paul- Thanks for the support. I guess I'm NOT the only one who thinks beach driving has gotten a bit excessive.

Bill- Yeah, moderation might be a good compromise solution. It doesn't have to be all or nothing. I could definitely get behind some kind of permitting or locals-only system.

Charles- I drive down to the OBX several times a year, and I really treasure every trip. Part of the charm is being able park at a variety of pullouts and easily walk to a secluded spot on the sound or ocean. So I agree that it would be a shame if the "look but don't touch" environmentalists closed off more of those spots than truly necessary. I think the ability to actually DO something in nature is vital for developing and maintaining our appreciation of it, especially for kids. In other words, I think preserving access and recreational opportunities is equally important to preserving the natural habitats themselves. Usually it's possible to do both. However, I think that beach driving, when done excessively or in the unique nesting areas of endangered species, is an example of a form of recreation that interferes a bit too much with the nature-preservation side of things. You make a good point about how there is roadkill on the highway, too. But there it's mainly common species like gulls, grackles, and opossums, whereas on the beach, driving is destroying the nests of rare species in the only places they can complete their life cycle. That's why I support the proposed closures.

Catapulting Aaron said...


When OBXBill put up the poll a month ago, I think I was one of the 3 out of 20 or so votes that thought that driving on the beach should be illegal. Just like you said, anything could be accessed by foot. It will stink if the law change really hurts the businesses on Hatteras Island, though. However, in the end the fisherman who decide to continue fishing their on the beach without a truck might end up having a better time catching Red Drum when there are fewer fishermen...

PeconicPuffin said...

I think the photo at the top speaks volumes. Anyone can see that wall to wall vehicles on a beach is a mistake. It's overuse.

In the areas of Long Island where I'm on the beach with 4wd's (hitching...I drive a van) if we have six vehicles on the beach at one time that's a lot. Our beach isn't getting trashed. But I can imagine what would happen with would be a mess.

There is a thought in our culture that telling people they can't have what they want whenever they want it is unAmerican. People need to embrace management (and intelligence.

Andy said...

Hi James! Management, as opposed to closure, is key imo. The first three years I lived here I drove a station wagon (I miss it), and I got *almost* everywhere anyone else was going, by rigging up in the parking lot, ocean sight unseen, and trekking up to a few hundred yards with rigged gear balanced on my head. It worked, but it sucked. I expended 1/2 of my sailing energy tiptoeing across 100 degree sand sweating my ass off! I was 22 years old and in great shape, and still almost passed out a few times from the heat! I can't imagine out of shape 60+ers making the trek safely, but I guess they could just adjust where and when they went to the beach.

I think the big rigamarole is not just about 4X4s but human access in general. As it stands, the areas that are closed to 4x4s are also closed to feet, unless you walk below the high tide line in the shorebreak. I was scared that larger sections of the beach would be closed off than what they chose. As it is, the chunk of the cove that can often be EPIC is now accessible by a short sail up or downwind, but if you want to take a break or if you break a mast and get washed ashore in the wrong spot, you risk being ticketed...
Last year a kiter friend dropped his kite and got all tangled up, he had to swim to shore to get straightened out. His fellow downwinder friends came ashore to check on him, and help relaunch. While untangling lines, they noticed a big white SUV Barrelling down the beach right towards them. Turns out, they had come ashore unknowingly in a closed area, and the NPS bore down on them and gave each person a $three digit ticket. So, not only does the public need to be managed, but responsible managing needs to worked out, as well, imo. Did the NPS need to tear a mile or two down the beach at 20+ mph, in a known nesting area, to ticket four people just standing in one (general) place? Did it matter that one member of the party likely would have drowned or needed water rescue if he hadn't come ashore at that very spot? Very specific example, I know, but we regular beach users are more fearful of a police state than sensibly limiting 4x4 access in appropriate areas!

BTW, a lot of people have heard that the whole beach is closed! It's not! Just a few small patches here and there, until a piping plover is spotted, and then the areas will expand dramatically, until the birds finish their business and move on. The majority of the beaches are still open to human and 4x4 access, although a management plan needs to be in place by Dec 2010, at which point we'll learn about permits, closures, etc...

James Douglass said...

Andy- Wow, that sucks what happened to those kiters! Sounds like the rangers were enforcing the letter of the law, while completely missing the point of it. I absolutely agree that common sense management is needed on this issue... although it may take a while for the different parties involved to sort out what "common sense" is.

Anonymous said...

Well James, I guess I'm one of those parents mentioned earlier. My father taught me to fish on the Outer Banks back in the 60's. He had emphysema, so driving out there worked well. In those days you could drive the whole 75 miles, and there was plenty of space. Today, that 75 miles of beach has been whittled down to a fraction, and the prime fishing spots are Cape Point, Hatteras Inlet, Both Ocracoke Inlets, and Oregon Inlet. Simple math will show that taking a number, and squeezing it into a smaller space will result in more crowded conditions. It's important to note that these places are not 20 feet from a vehicle, they're several miles through soft sand, and virtually impossible to access by foot, with the necessary gear to fish for our wonderful game fish(which we release by the way). I can say that the vast majority of the fishermen do more to keep the beaches clean and safe for "all" of the wildlife we encounter by removing the garbage that washes ashore, and by avoiding the already large designated areas. We enjoy the birds as well as the fish! For a guy working on his PhD, I'm a little surprised that you would make assumptions, without scientific fact, would be indifferent to the welfare of the local businesses, and unconcerned about the loss of rights and heritage of the many fishermen and families. I'll assume you're just a kid, that hasn't had the pleasure. Please do some research and write something that tells the entire scenario, and how you will explain to your children why they can't enjoy these places, or to your grandchildren, that it's too far for them to walk, or that you can't make that walk anymore. Then explain to them that they lost this privilege because selfish people used a rarely seen bird at the OBX to close the place so a few people could had their own private area of solitude. You want to be a scientist, then consider the entire universe of factors, and the affects of your comments before you make any abrupt statements. BTW, that famous plover picture is probable a fake. Is it not odd that you can see the finger marks for the photograph? Anyone can place a bird in a hole and run over it, then clean away the sand for a photo, if you know where the bird is. Think about it.

Anonymous said...

You should really educate yourself on the Consent Decree that NPS has agreed upon.

It's not just ORV access. A clouser is a clouser. And if the beach is closed where you land your Kite Sail, then you just broke the LAW!

Even you greenies will pay the price.

James Douglass said...

Ken- Thanks for the comment. I am aware of the environmental and cultural importance of being able to get out and enjoy nature, and I addressed some of those issues earlier in the comments section in my reply to Charles. I agree that recreational fishermen are usually very conservation minded. It's unfortunate that they're at odds with the bird and turtle people in this case, since fishermen and environmentalists can usually be allies. Balancing the need to protect endangered species and the need to let people access and experience nature is certainly difficult.

Regarding heritage and business welfare, those are definitely important and I don't mean to neglect them. Of course, the development and economics of the outer banks have changed incredibly rapidly in recent decades, and folks seem to have adapted pretty well. As I say in the blog, beach driving has been around a couple generations, but it's not like an essential, ancient tradition that underlies the entire outer banks culture and economy. Really only a small minority (10% ?) of obx visitors come to drive on the beach. Yeah, it sucks that some of the best points and inlets are getting closed to fishing, but I think the good fishermen will still be able to catch big drum, stripers, and bluefish in other spots.

Regarding the bird picture, it's actually a baby tern, not a plover. But it's real. Of course the number of birds that are literally run over is fairly small, but the greater issue is the fact that the birds get spooked away from nesting in areas where vehicles are allowed. It will be interesting to see how this year's closures affect nesting success. If it makes no difference, then maybe the beaches will be reopened to vehicles, or at least to people on foot.

Anonymous- Yeah, it kinda sucks that the closures affect walkers and swimmers as well as trucks, but I think the rationale is that even people on foot might scare the birds away from nesting. Hopefully once the birds start to get re-established, the Park Service will try allowing various types of access back in to see what's really harmful for the birds and what's ok.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous- Yeah, it kinda sucks that the closures affect walkers and swimmers as well as trucks, but I think the rationale is that even people on foot might scare the birds away from nesting. Hopefully once the birds start to get re-established, the Park Service will try allowing various types of access back in to see what's really harmful for the birds and what's ok."

Take my advise and read the Consent Decree. If you endup in a clouser, no matter if walked, swam, flew or dropped from the sky, YOU JUST BROKE THE LAW, and NPS HAS TOO inform the court of each violation. As I speak, the Defenders of Wildlife (the plantiff) have people watching current clousers waiting for anyone (not just ORV) to cross that line.

Why? This group want to turn the remaining open areas of Hatteras and Occracoke into Wildlife Refuges. If that happens (and it is the next step). You guys and gals will no longer have the RIGHT to WInd Surf or Kite Sail in those areas.

This Consent Decree is about managing wildlife. It's WILDLIFE how the hell do you manage wildlife?

Anonymous said...


What do you think about beach walking? As stated, you won't be able to walk there either. So this important fact makes the title of your blog entry categorically incorrect and misleading.

Let's try to look at the big picture rather than just the ones that do things on the beach that you don't care for i.e. fishing, kiting, etc. Its fine for you to despise driving on sand - I support your freedom to refrain. However at the same time I'm not giving you a hard time for wanting to picnic with your family on the beach now am I?


Anonymous said...

In case People don't know the park is actually call Cape Hatteras National Recreational Area. Meaning it was set aside for recreation and not as a bird sanctuary. We have Pea Island for that. And another thing is that most of the Terns have been seen building their nest on the top of flat roof buildings. So apparently God created these birds with a brain, so they could adapt to their environment.

James Douglass said...

Anonymous and Anonymous-

1) I have read the decree and I know that, for the most part, walking isn't allowed in the closures. I agree with you that my original blog post was a little misleading about where walking was allowed, so I have now changed it. Thanks for keeping me honest.

2) You wrote, "It's WILDLIFE how the hell do you manage wildlife?". That's a good question. The simple answer is "you give it some room and leave it alone". Of course people need space to live and play, too, so you can't make everything a wildlife reserve. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that the NPS or the environmental groups want to turn ALL of Hatteras Island and Ocracoke into reserves where people can't even go on foot. (If they try THAT I'll be as mad about it as y'all are.) Rather, my impression is that they are just trying to protect the spots that are most critical to the endangered species while still leaving large areas open for any type of use.

James Douglass said...

Anonymous #3-

(Sorry, you posted while I was responding to the other two anonymouses. If there get to be too many posts for me to repond to everyone I might start giving priority to the non-anonymous ones.)

With regards to the federal government's name for the obx beaches between Nags Head and Ocracoke, I'm pretty sure that it IS "national seashore" (see link).

Of course, whether or not it's in the name, recreation is a very important part of the area. As I have written elsewhere in the comments, I DO think that fishing, swimming, and boardsports opportunities should be preserved, as well as the natural habitat and endangered species.

With regards to terns on rooftops, yeah, some species are adaptable and not all birds need to nest on the beach. However, some of the most rare species DO need to nest on the beach. For whatever reason, those species aren't able to nest anywhere else. So unless we want to be responsible for their extinction, we need to set aside some areas for them to nest in.

Anonymous said...

Mr Douglass,
There are already places set aside for the wildlife. IE Pea Island, there are several miles of it there with no orv traffic from the public and the birds and turtle populations have still declined, so what caused it there the park service. The habitat in which these birds use for nesting is very harsh and ultimately winds up killing the biggest majority of the fledglings. they are killed by natural predators as well as flood tides. That has nothing to do with beach driving just as this injunction ultimately has nothing to do with orvs. The mighty judge wants people off the beach period. The good people of these islands and the ones who use them are so upset because they had a plan in place and were working through the process of adopting a permanent plan through the reg neg process with the DOW and Audobon when they broke trust with us and sued. If this does get pushed through and I think it will, it is only the beginning of the end. And sir to your comment that it is not our right to drive here, this park was established years ago for the enjoyment and recreation of the PUBLIC. I know that there are some idiot drivers out there, however the biggest majority of us orv drivers police our trash trying to leave the beach cleaner than we found it and drive responsibly and safely. There are many that utilize this area that are handicapped and cannot walk the 2 and a half to 3 miles to south point. We as Americans have certain rights and I think some of are tired of sitting back and watching them being taken from us. Have a nice day.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Douglass,

Here is clarification of the name for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area based on legislature rather than a NPS provided map.

Go to: and search "Hatteras"

You can also Google "16 USC Sec. 459"

Educate. Preserve and Protect. - NOT Prohibit.

Anonymous said...

"2) You wrote, "It's WILDLIFE how the hell do you manage wildlife?". That's a good question. The simple answer is "you give it some room and leave it alone". Of course people need space to live and play, too, so you can't make everything a wildlife reserve. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that the NPS or the environmental groups want to turn ALL of Hatteras Island and Ocracoke into reserves where people can't even go on foot. (If they try THAT I'll be as mad about it as y'all are.) Rather, my impression is that they are just trying to protect the spots that are most critical to the endangered species while still leaving large areas open for any type of use."

Give it some room? My god man they are giving 3,283 foot radius of buffer around each plover nest. And here is the kicker. Each time these clousers are enchroached upon (You have to swim ashore to fix your Kite Sail and land inside a clouser) the Judge can and will make them LARGER!!!


So, what's eaiser for NPS to manage:

A empty beach or fenced enclousers with beach goers?

NPS can caught their budget and get the Judge off their back by just closing the beach.

Now do you get it?

Catapulting Aaron said...

A major disconnect that I'm seeing here philosophically between James and the pro-drivers is that the fishermen have been using the word "right". I think this is a misnomer. Just like many of the things we as Americans take for granted, beach driving is a privilege. Regardless of what has been done in the past with your parents and your parents' parents in your family history, we have to continue to look carefully at our habits as humans and determine whether we are negatively impacting the other species of the world in order to maintain the balances that nature has programmed over millions of years. If we eliminate or decimate species of birds, we could ultimately interrupt the local food chain and cause a chain reaction of extinction at which point your beloved Red Drum could be completely gone.

I'm annoyed by the condescension many of you have used toward the author of this blog, many having questioned James' experience and familiarity with the OBX. This isn't a half-wit like myself blindly making statements on a topic that he has no familiarity with. This is a person who has been devoted to studying human/environment interactions for a dozen years!

I hope cooler heads prevail and a good solution is found. As a windsurfer and a water-user I think it is also very important that we don't just act out of our own desire for easy thrills.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Aaron, vehicle access to the beach IS in fact a right that was guaranteed.

The enabling legislation guaranteed the right to recreation and the right for fishing. From 16 USC 459: “said area shall be, and is, established, dedicated, and set apart as a national seashore recreational area for the benefit and enjoyment of the people and shall be known as the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area”.

As for a wilderness preservation, a specific exception was made for sailing, swimming, boating, and fishing. From 16 USC 459(a)(2): “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...."

In fact, in 1952 during discussions of adjusting the boundaries of the Seashore, Park Service Director Conrad Wirth wrote an open letter to the people of the Outer Banks
reassuring them that the beaches would continue to be open for their use, stating, “…when the lands for the Recreational Area are acquired and become public property there will always be access to the beach for all people, whether they are local residents or visitors from the outside.”

This access has always included vehicles – in fact, before there were roads built in the Outer Banks, the beaches were the roads.

Wirth’s 1952 letter also states a clear intent to continue to allow vehicle access in the Seashore, specifically noting that “it will be necessary to establish
certain regulations, such as to designate places for vehicles to get to the beach, in order to reduce sand dune erosion to a minimum…”


I am not going to get into any emotional flame wars, but I will say that Hatteras islanders have expressed frustration over years of arrogance from park service management.


Add to the pot of frustration that the NPS ALREADY was operating under an Interim Management plan that regularly closes portions of the beaches for wildlife.

Add to the pot of frustration that the NPS, environmental groups, and local governments and businesses (including fishermen) were already conducted Negotiated Rulemaking (allowing for public comment), when the environmental groups participating in the negotiating rulemaking apparently short circuited the process by filing the lawsuit. The result is perceived as a back-room deal imposed by a judge that needs not reveal his justification to the public.

Island Free Press Opinion Article

I share your hope that cooler heads will prevail. I also agree with you that responsible management is essential (which, incidentally,also is adopted in the OBPA Mission Statement). As others have said, I am more concerned about the potential "police state". (Imagine if they started blocking windsurf launches like Canadian Hole, Salvo Day Use, etc., or Hampton launches in the name of some endangered animal or sea grass)

I enjoy both windsurfing and fishing at OBX. I hope I can continue to do both.

Catapulting Aaron said...

on the fence -- I still disagree... if voting in this country is considered a "privilege", driving on the beach should fall into an even more fragile category...

This is an argument of semantics, but the sense of entitlement in the US today is a very dangerous thing, in my opinion.

At times throughout history, people have had to change their habits for a variety of reasons, whether it be using paint that didn't have lead or creating laws that stop people from driving drunk. We constantly need to reevaluate what we're doing despite what was initially the law.

Sure there are lots of old laws and statutes that should be upheld permanently, the US Constitution is FULL of them... but we can't assume things are always indefinite and forever... we have to adapt too!

Anonymous said...

Well, Aaron, that was an interesting response...

My position is based on Rule of Law and statutory authority.

Your "semantic" argument appears to be relying on ill-founded rhetoric.

You also fail to demonstrate how existing NPS procedures (Interim Management Plan, Negotiated Rulemaking, etc.) that already restrict driving on the beaches would "eliminate or decimate species of birds"

It seems your mind is made up.

Peace Out.

James Douglass said...

Aaron- Thanks for the thoughtful and supportive comments, and for attempting to steer the discussion back to the more general issue. I agree that in this shrinking world we need to rethink the ways we interact with nature, lest we have no more nature to interact with.

On-the-fence- Thanks for the detailed analysis. I won't comment much on the specific politics of the lawsuits and stuff. I do agree that it's a shame the closures had to happen this way, but I understand the desperation the environmental groups probably felt at seeing bird populations continue to decline under the earlier, less stringent plan.

James Douglass said...


I'm sorry I didn't reply sooner to your comment. It sort-of got buried in other comments. However, you did bring up some good points that nobody else brought up. Also, you signed your post, which I respect a lot, so I will try to give you the good reply you deserve.

#1- **Pea Island.** Yeah, it's true that they have several miles of no-driving reserve at Pea Island. But that's actually a pretty small chunk of the obx, and it doesn't seem to be the area that the beach nesting birds prefer. Perhaps that's because the front beach at Pea Island is more steep and narrow than it is around the point and inlet areas that are currently being targeted for driving restrictions.

#2- **Wind, tide and predators are big influences on fledgling survival.** Yes, I agree with you about this. Trucks are not the only threats that beach-nesters face. But just because other stuff is bad for the birds, too, doesn't mean that beach driving isn't. And since we can't really manage the wind and tides, our best option to reduce the mortality of birds is, IMHO, to more conservatively manage beach driving. Restricting beach driving may also help to reduce the activity of predators like racoons and gulls. (According to one theory, these pests increase in areas where people fish because they eat leftover bait and picnic food and stuff. In other words, they are drawn to an area by people-food, but while they are there they also eat whatever baby birds and turtles they find.)

#3- **The people of the obx are good folks, and most beach drivers are responsible citizens who pick up their trash.** Well, I can't argue with you there. Of course, lots of the beach driving is from tourists who don't have nearly as much respect for the area as you do. (See link)

Perhaps a residents-only beach driving permit could be issued for some areas?

#4- **The judge and the greenies want to ultimately ban all human use of the beach, which is against the spirit of the area and the recreational intent of the seashore.** I think this is a bit of an exaggeration. However, if a total obx beach ban (including walking) IS proposed (which I think is very unlikely) I will join you in fighting against it to make sure there is a more equitable balancing between recreational and environmental needs.

Thanks again for participating in the discussion in a reasonable way. We may never completely agree about this, but I hope we're at least able to understand each others views a little better after this.

Anonymous said...

"""#4- **The judge and the greenies want to ultimately ban all human use of the beach, which is against the spirit of the area and the recreational intent of the seashore.** I think this is a bit of an exaggeration. However, if a total obx beach ban (including walking) IS proposed (which I think is very unlikely) I will join you in fighting against it to make sure there is a more equitable balancing between recreational and environmental needs."""


They just closed 2 miles of beach today that you could walk, swim or drive on yesterday, Not just ORV total clouser, NO WALKING. You can't even WALK to the point.

Everything you said is an "exaggeration" is happening right now.

James Douglass said...

Anonymous- Well, I meant like, if they tried to close ALL the beaches. But I know what you mean. It IS sketchy how they're closing down huge areas even to walking. Seems kinda counterproductive. Like, what motivation will people have to take care of the beach if they're not even allowed to WALK on it? I would rather they just banned cars on the beach than actually closed it. I think that would be good enough.

Anonymous said...

When they close Canadian Hole to windsurfing and kite surfing, will it bother you? Do you windsurf from the Hatteras beaches? Will it bother you that the few areas you can access are lined with beachgoers, leaving you nowhere to launch your windsurfer? Do you really think that beach vehicles crush the poor little birds? There are few piping plovers and oyster catchers on the Hatteras and Ocracoke beaches, not because of vehicle traffic, but because those birds prefer other areas. John Benson

alan said...

James & others,
People live on and visit the OBX because they love the environment and the animals within it. We do not want to see the birds and turtles harmed. The problem we have is access.
It is not reasonable to walk to Ocracoke south point. The nearest parking areas are 5 miles away. There are not parking areas designed for the majority of the beach at Ocracoke. The 4wd access ramps were designed as a way for people to access the beach, as required in the establishment of the recreational area, in the least destructive manner possible. ORV's responsibly driven between the tideline and the dunes are not destructive. The alternative is more parking areas. I don't think anyone would want to see south point road paved and a parking lot built at the end, which is the only way that you could access south point by walking. ORV's are a much more environmentally friendly way for people to access the area.
Let's support the negotiated rule making process and encourage NPS to enforce the current interim plan. There are rules in place regarding ORV use, and over half of Ocracoke Island was closed to ORV's in the summer season last year. The current closures at Ocracoke, Cape Point, and Oregon Inlet are stopping people from driving, walking, or any other manner of access.

Catapulting Aaron said...


I think you've got the right idea. Unfortunately, the bureaucratic current condition sucks and it's gonna take a long time to get everything to resolve...

Anonymous said...

Most of this has already been posted by good folks smarter than me but I just felt compelled to repeat it again with my own 2 cents. Some of it you might know some of it could be new...

From 1902-1960 no piping plover nest were ever spotted on Cape Hatteras

Since 1960 there have NEVER been more than 15 breeding pairs at one time on Cape Hatteras. Seeing as how North Carolina is at the extreme southern end of the piping plovers breeding range this would suggest that the birds that do breed here are rogues. It is often pointed out that we have so few birds on our seashore and this is why. There are several other species of wildlife that are few and far between in North Carolina for this very reason. For some odd reason this seems to be ignored by environmentalist….

There have been 21 documented cases of plovers being run over nationwide. Of those 21 incidents 20 were run over by federal vehicles. Perhaps federal employees are the ones who need to be banned from driving on the beach. Of these 21 incidents NOT A SINGLE ONE has ever been recorded at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Again this fact gets completely ignored by environmentalist and lawyers that sue the park service. I imagine the reason why is because this lawsuit isn’t really about bird protection….

Ghost crabs are the main reason for chick mortality followed by oceanic storms and lunar tides. And let’s not forget about snakes and foxes (the foxes are shot by the park service of course) that eat the eggs. But who cares about a fox doing what nature designed him to do right? Humans aren’t allowed in the closure area so how we fishermen are responsible for the death of chicks is beyond me. We fishermen in our ORV’s are to blame by environmentalist but let’s not let facts get in the way here. What we need to do is figure out a way to stop Mother Nature and federal vehicles from killing these birds. Mother Nature has her job to do but reckless federal employees should be taught to spot a plover chick in the sand. I propose we fishermen do the teaching since we spend more time respecting and cleaning the outer banks than the park service and environmentalist suing us combined.

Your tax dollars were used to pay the Southern Environmental Law Center to sue the park service. In other words…the defenders of wildlife and Audubon were given government money to sue the government……yes you read this correct but for some reason the tax paying public is unaware of this.

Last year the Army Corp of Engineers destroyed 24 plover nest so they could float two barges of alfalfa pellets down the Missouri River. How come the government didn’t sue itself over that little incident. One can only wonder…….

Here is the biggest fact of all folks. The facts above continue to be completely ignored by environmental lawyers and judges deemed to be “honorable”

This might not be a fact (yet) but let’s call it what it really is. This is nothing short of a land grab attempt by a bunch of elitist and they are getting away with it in what is slowly becoming socialist America.

And another thing........The next time you see one of these wildlife fishery people flying up and down the beach roping off turtle nest ask them this question.

Ask them WHY they don't pick the turtles up after hatch and get them into the water to increase survival rate. Your answer will sound something like this........Because that is interfering with the nature of survival. Then you can ask them how many times over the course of existence that mother nature has swooped down from her place amongst the clouds and threw miles of rope around one of these turtle nest.

Anonymous said...

Well, things just keep getting worse: not only is Cape Point completely blocked off, they've closed even MORE beaches to ORV and pedestrian traffic between Cape Point and Frisco.

The Island Free Press ( is reporting on May 8, 2008:

Although Cape Point is not shut down, the other closures made it inaccessible from the east or west.

The beach that is now open to ORVs – and pedestrians – from Buxton to the Frisco Pier now consists of a hundred yards or so at Ramp 43, about .6 mile from Ramp 44 out to Cape Point, and 1.7 miles from Ramp 49 in Frisco east toward the Point. There is also close to a mile open right now from Ramp 49 toward the pier, but about half of that, in front of Frisco cottages, will be closed May 15 when the seasonal closures at the seashore kick in.

You're looking this summer at at three measly miles from Cape Point to Hatteras Inlet. We will NOT let this turn into an "Ocean City".

James Douglass said...

John Benson- Yes, it will bother me if they close Canadian Hole and Ego Beach. I mostly windsurf on the sound side in the obx, but when I windsurf in the ocean it has always been at Ego Beach or one of the other pull-overs, since I don't have a 4x4. It will be interesting to see if those areas get more crowded now with the new regulations. Yes, I do think vehicles sometimes crush baby birds, as I state in the blog, but I think the bigger problem is that they scare the parent birds away from nesting. I think the NPS is trying their best to protect the nesting areas while still allowing people to use the beach. Whether or not they are succeeding is obviously still up for debate.

Alan- To be honest, I don't know much about Ocracoke beaches since I always stay on Hatteras Island. However, I think that roadside parking and walkover access areas are going to see increasing use throughout the obx now that we've got the ORV restrictions. Of course I share your concerns about paving and putting huge parking lots all over the place. Hopefully there is a compromise solution. In my home state of Washington, which is still pretty wild, it's not uncommon to have to hike to certain beaches from a trailhead parking area. Of course it's not as hot there, and people usually aren't carrying a lot of fishing gear... but I'm getting off-topic.

Aaron- Yup.

Anonymous May 7 Post- Those are really interesting facts. I would love to know their source so I could learn about them in more detail. Especially the historical populations of Piping Plovers on OBX beaches. As I'm sure you know, the plovers aren't the only beach nesting birds that the closures are intended to protect, but they are obviously the focus of much of this controversy.

Both sides of the fence- Yeah, I saw the news about the closures on Bill Bell's blog.

D.Glasner said...

I'll just leave a post that I did on another website...

Truth be told, I have not been following the beach closures and restriction news very closely. But from what I've been able to gather, people are quite upset by the fact that certain areas must be closed due to certain environmental factors.

And their outcry is certainly warranted.

Beach driving and beach access are obviously part of what makes Cape Hatteras National Seashore so great. It's a major part of island life and local history, and it’s a tourist attraction. Taking that away is like taking away access to Colonial Williamsburg here in Virginia.

However, as a biologist, it's important to note the importance and urgency of wildlife/beach conservation. Also, part of what makes Hatteras so great is the abundant wildlife - both flora and fauna. It's imperative that we do our best to keep the environment intact. Without it, Hatteras wouldn't be such an amazing place to begin with.

And as a former student of geology, I also understand the need to limit beach driving. Erosion is a real and concrete problem. From what I've observed, the beaches are in fact narrowing. Driving on the sand loosens the grains, allowing longshore drift currents to carry the sand away. Though it may not be an immediate result, over the next 50 years, constant erosion could very well lead to a total disappearance of beaches on the island.

All of this, however, is not to say that the changes for conservation being made are right. As a scientist, I understand the need to preserve and protect that which makes nature what it is. But as a longtime visitor (1988) and soon to be resident of the island, I also understand how important history and tradition are. Without them, the charm and way of life I've come to know and love wouldn't be nearly as amazing as it is.

But there must be a compromise somewhere. Between complete closure and total disregard for the environment, there exists a solution that will satisfy both islanders and scientists. Unfortunately, both sides have people that cannot understand or comprehend the other’s point of view. This is to be expected, but it represents a major road block on the path to compromise.

Though it may not be so easy to make the government and other higher-ups listen to reason and try to understand the lifestyle, I feel that the residents of Hatteras Island would be much more open to understanding the position of the scientists and conservationists.

There exists no easy solution to these problems. It's not something that will come overnight. Both sides of the coin need to do their best to understand the other. Absolute commitment to a single point of view will not help ease this situation. A willingness to listen and the ability to compromise, however, will.

D.Glasner said...

After reading some more of these responses...

The wildlife we observe on Hatteras Island is certainly important. There's no doubt about that, and I don't see how anyone can argue against that. Without the wildlife, Hatteras Island wouldn't exist today. Period. It's a simple fact of Biology, and I challenge you to argue it.

Beach driving, on the other hand, is not a right of the people. It is, in fact, a privilege. Is driving your car on the road a right? If it is, then why can you have your license suspended or revoked? Sounds like a privilege to me.

That's not to say, however, that it shouldn't be allowed. I'm a biologist, I support conservation, because I feel it's important to keep the world in a good state, and to keep it beautiful for the next generation of humans.

But, like I posted earlier, I'm one of those "long-timers" on Hatteras Island. Since the 1950s, my family has visited, and I've visited since I was born. I'll be moving there for the remainder of the Summer next week, and I love the Island with all my heart. I consider it my second home, even over my College here in Virginia.

Part of the Island is the beach driving and the beach access - you can't completely take that away without taking part of the Lifestyle from Hatteras.

As I read in one of the previous remarks, it's mostly tourists that cause the damage. I can attest to this fact. Not all, but many tourists lack the understanding many Islanders have. I dislike considering myself a tourist, because I feel I'm contributing to a problem.

But really, what is there to do? Allow beach driving as it has been, and risk destroying part of a very fragile ecosystem (don't tell me they're just birds, or that there's only a few of them - that's like saying, 'well it's just one person dead'. I'm not equating human life to the life of a bird, but they are equally important to our environment). Or close the beaches fully and ruin the Hatteras economy, charm, and Lifestyle for the Islanders.

Both are terrible options. Neither are completely viable, in my opinion.

So what then? There's no easy answer. Any of you who think it's one or the other is wrong. Any of you who think that we should compromise just to make the government happy is also wrong.

We need to compromise for the sake of our environment, for the sake of keeping Hatteras Island beautiful so we can share it with our kids. A compromise is the only way a solution will be found.

I'm not really sure what should be done. Conservation Biology is not my area of expertise. But what needs to be done is assemble a group of level-headed, educated scientists, along with lawmakers, and hammer out a viable, appeasing solution for both sides. As I said, it does exist. People just need to open their eyes, ears, and minds to find it. Closed-mindedness and stubbornness will get this decision nowhere.

~Dustin, W&M Student, Surfer, and Life-long Frisco, NC visitor/resident