State of the Beach/Perspectives/Cape Hatteras

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ACCESS DENIED: Dueling Perspectives On Cape Hatteras Beach Access

Interviews by Zach Weisberg

SURFER Magazine Online Editor

Unabridged Interview with Walker Golder (Deputy State Director of Audubon North Carolina)

It seems the Audubon society is trying to lobby to ban off-road driving in the Outer Banks of Cape Hatteras. Is this true?

No not at all. We are working to protect natural resources but not to band all off road vehicle driving at Cape Hatteras. We don’t mind responsible off road vehicle driving at all but when there are direct conflicts with the protection of natural resources then the resources by law have to be protected. Our goal is to protect napping, migrating, and wandering birds as well as sea turtles but we are still allowing access to just about all the seashore to vehicles and people. And the closures that are put in place to protect natural resources prevent the direct destruction of the resources by people and vehicles.

How will this affect the surfing at Cape Hatteras?

I have been hearing a lot about how this is going to lead to banning surfing on the beach. And you know as one who has lived on the coast of North Carolina for all of my life, surf for 35 years, been gong to the outer banks for 30 of those years, and who actually lived there for awhile. The places that people typically want to surf are as open as they have ever been. And you are going to hear from a few locals that this is an effort to ban access to the beach and nothing could be further from the truth. If you look at the areas that are affected by resource protection they are typically not the areas where people go to surf.

Surfers are typically considered environmentalists. Do you think surfers are environmentalists of opportunity?

Well I think you are correct in the statement that most surfers typically are about the environment and care about protecting natural resources. There are some, however, who are opportunistic. They are a few folks on the Outer Banks who will tell you what great environmentalists they are but then will support measures that have a direct negative impact on birds and sea turtles. Basically, they run over these animals with vehicles, which cause them to be subjected to temperature stress and die.

Do you think these measures are a little drastic for what is trying to be accomplished?

The measures follow the recommendation of the country’s leading scientists that work with the National Park service. There are just volumes and volumes of good science that support this. And that is what is being implemented on the Outer Banks. It is the best science that is available and it is consistent with the law.

Exactly what species are you trying to protect and why are they so important?

There are six to seven different species of birds and three different species of sea turtles that nest on the beaches of the seashore. Cape Hatteras National Seashore is one of the most important places in the country for these species and they deserve protection. When you are talking about surfing, fishing, birding, and great beaches you always hear about the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It is a national icon and deserves protecting for us, the people who enjoy it, and for the future generations.

What's the next step in the legislation?

Well, I think the legislation is pretty short-sighted. However, the litigation was what Audubon was involved in and it was basically to restore resource protection at the seashore. They had implemented their own plan and completely ignored science, which had a drastic negative impact on birds and sea turtles. Birds and people can coexist on the beach just fine but you have to give them room to nest. The future of that is in place until they have a formal adopted off road vehicle management plan. It is expected to have a draft of that in 2010 and a final rule in 2011, which will then take the place of this.

Unabridged Interview with Greg Roberts (Co-Founder of Save Hatteras Organization)

What is your take on the situation in Cape Hatteras?

To start off, the official name of this area is Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Recreational Area. It is not Cape Hatteras National Wildlife Refuge. The Audubon Society has essentially tried to inflict their will through the Federal judge. This is hurtful mainly because there are still people alive in Hatteras who donated their land to the Federal Government for all citizens to enjoy. These people are feeling betrayed, in fact there are a quite a few of them who feel like American Indians because they were promised one thing and then the reality is far different. And the specific promises were that you could drive and fish on the beach as well as use the beach for recreation. There wasn’t anything about parts being locked off for birds and so on.

Why the sudden spur for policy change now?

Essentially, the park is federal land. Last summer, a young man was arrested for reckless driving on the beach by a park ranger. Because it was Federal land it went in front of a Federal judge. The Federal judge who heard the case did not just give the guy a ticket, he actually wrote a ruling that it was illegal to drive upon the Cape Hatteras National Seashore because they did not have a driving plan in place. Part of the problem is that the park service, local government, and citizens put together a driving plan many years ago and everybody agreed to it. Somehow, someway, it never got registered in the Federal register. Since it was never registered, as far as the judge is concerned, it doesn’t exist.

How has this affected the people who live in Cape Hatteras?

It is very serious for any property owner down there… commercial, residential, and for the tourists because the facts on the ground are that we get hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Actually it is in the billions at this point for our whole season. The part where this has gotten really interesting is right now there are ocean front houses, that if the beaches close because there are nesting birds or a couple of birds kind of eye balling each other, they can’t get to the beach in front of their own house.

How is this going to affect the surfers?

From the surfer’s perspective, if the beach is closed then you can’t get to the water. You are not allowed on the places where the beaches are closed like down at Cape Point. If you were to rent a boat then you can’t pull the boat up onto the beach.

So all of this is about the Piping Plovers?

There are approximately 4 pairs of Piping Plovers in a successful breeding season on the Outer Banks…that is eight birds. The other part that is rather annoying about all of this is that the Piping Plover is not native to the Outer Banks. They are actually from around the Great Lakes and up in the North East. They are birds…they fly.

How do you feel about the current restrictions in place at Hatteras Island?

If these rules are allowed to stand then they will, if not kill Hatteras Island, cripple Hatteras Island and everything we love about it. We had a public meeting down there in March and it was very emotional. There were people in tears about the fact that they were going to lose their livelihood, life savings, heritage, and everything that their families have ever done in Hatteras Island.

Any final comments?

What they have in place right now is far too drastic. The really funny part is that one of our county commissioners said that in the last several years there have been documented instances of 20 piping covers that have been run over on beaches, not necessarily here on the Outer Banks, but 18 of them by Federal vehicles. It starts to get really comical. The bottom line is that there is no surfer or fisher that is going to on purpose or accidentally try to run over any natural habitat.

This interview originally appeared in Surfer Magazine on August 30, 2009