By Connie Leinbach
Public access to more sound side waters was on islanders’ minds at a National Park Service open forum Sept. 2 in the Ocracoke Community Center.
The public meeting followed a day when officials visited various spots on the island for possible new points of access for both off-road vehicles and pedestrians.
Those visiting the sites were David Hallac, Cape Hatteras National Seashore superintendent, Mark Dowdle, deputy park superintendent, Bill Rich, Hyde County manager, Kris Noble, Hyde County economic development officer, Sarah Johnson, Hyde County public information officer and Will Doerfer, county manager intern.
“We want to hear what people want, what’s important to them,” Dowdle said as islanders milled about the maps.
Sites chosen for new access points depend on whether they would conform to the park’s Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) Plan, or funding, Dowdle said.
John Kowlok, chief of maintenance for CHNS, also talked with islanders who pointed out possible places from near South Point to the north end of the island.
“We’re noting peoples’ comments as to the best spots,” he said.
Dowdle explained CHNS projects compete for funding with all of the other national parks across the nation.
A proposed new access ramp on Ocracoke, dubbed Ramp 63, would be between the pony pens and Ramp 59.
It is next on the Park Service’s list, depending on funding, following two new ramps recently completed up the beach—Ramp 25 on Hatteras and Ramp 32 between Avon and the “tri-villages” (Salvo, Waves, Rodanthe).
While the final ORV plan calls for closing Ramp 59 (the last one at the north end of Ocracoke Island), that decision has not yet been made, he said.
“If there’s a bird or turtle closure (at the north end), Ramp 63 would offer more access options,” Dowdle said.
Islanders also talked to Hallac about the continued problems at the rebuilt public access boat launch at the end of the National Park Service parking lot.
The ramp was rebuilt after Superstorm Sandy struck in the fall of 2012.
Islanders and visitors have noted—this summer and last–that the slope is too shallow to float their boats before their rear car wheels become immersed.
Moreover, several times this summer, trailer axles of visitors’ boat trailers have gone over the edge of the ramp’s concrete damaging those axles.
The most recent damage was two days before the Sept. 2 meeting, added Rudy Austin, president of the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association.
“It’s almost impossible to put even a small boat in the water there,” Norman Miller, captain of the “Rascal,” told Hallac, adding that one of his customers caught an axle on the edge of the concrete. “That customer had to get another boat to pull his boat out.”
Hallac said he would try to fix the ramp–even if only one side could be done–but first must determine how much that would cost, especially since the CHNS is set to embark on a major refurbishment of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse to the tune of about $10 million.
“It will take time to find funding (to fix the boat ramp), but John (Kowlok) put in a project redo for at least one side,” Hallac said.
Kowlok confirmed that the ramp is sloped at about six degrees and it should be around 13 to 14 degrees.
He said the reason it was rebuilt incorrectly was because prior to the damage of Sandy, the center part of the ramps had been broken permitting the correct (steeper) slope while the original ramp had had the wrong slope.
In the meantime, Austin suggested that folks launch their boats at high tide when the water is deeper.
Another idea Austin suggested would be to modify boat trailer to raise the boats higher.