By Peter Vankevich
The Ocracoke Civic and Business Association meeting on April 13 included more than handling mallards and HB2.
National Park Service Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent David Hallac provided an overview on the National Park Service’s activities focusing on Ocracoke. He was accompanied by Mark Dowdle, deputy superintendent.
Following the lengthy discussion on how the community could handle the large number of mallards living in the village, he offered the park service’s help with wildlife expertise.
“We would like to work with the community, including educational signs not to feed wildlife,” he said.
Hallac began by saying he was pleased that NPS staff has been working closely with several organizations in getting fireworks back, which is now scheduled for July 3. He said there also could be a bonfire on the beach.
Based on feedback from public meetings, NPS is working on improving sound side access on the island. They have drafted options into an environmental assessment. This EA has proposed two preferred improvements that were based on public meetings.
One is Bitter Swash Creek, which is north of the pony pasture. This access would include improved roadside parking.
The other proposed location is known locally as Dump Station Road, across from the NPS campground. That road would be improved so that vehicles can drive to the sound. It also would be rezoned so that a beach driving permit would not be required. This will be known as Devil Shoals Road after the shoal in its vicinity, he said.
“About 1,500 people commented about sound side access,” Hallac said.
The NPS also is working on a water trail sound-side access initiative for kayaks and other non-motorized paddling activities.
Over the years, there have been problems with vehicles and boat trailers left long-term at the Park Service’s large parking area, he said. This has prevented visitors from using it to launch boats.
In order to park overnight, people must now obtain a free 24-hour permit for a vehicle or a boat trailer. During weather emergencies, they will not enforce the overnight permit requirement.
Hallac acknowledged that the boat ramp at the parking lot is not working due to the slope. They are working on getting funds and permits to redo it so that boats can be loaded into the sound without damaging axles.
Hallac said the NPS has been supportive of the passenger ferry proposal which would include improving the infrastructure for the docks and access both on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.
About 34,500 off-road vehicle permits were sold last year. Sixty percent were for weekly permits, which cost $50, and the rest for year-long permits at $120.
Half of the income from permit sales is going to staffing, including law enforcement and resource management, and the rest to improvements, especially for beach access. An example is the new ramp 63 on the island, that is just about ready, he said. They are waiting for some additional shell and clay to harden the surface.
Money collected from fees and not used, goes into the general U.S. Treasury fund. In 2014, NPS turned back $17,000 and in 2015 only $67 was turned in, he said.
They try to use all of the money for the good of Seashore, but it is tricky since most of the money collected from permits comes in the last fiscal quarter which ends Sept. 30.
ORV permits can now be obtained online and printed out and used immediately, Hallac continued.
Permits are issued to vehicles, are nontransferable and include license plate information. For people who purchased a permit online and do not have access to a printer, they can go to the permit office in the NPS Visitors’ Center, near the big ferry docks in the village, and the staff will print out a temporary permit without charge
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Options being considered for next year include changing the seven-day permit to 10 days, and adding a three-day permit.
Another change being consider is opening the beaches to vehicle access one hour earlier–at 6 a.m. in the early summer, at 6:30 a.m. mid-summer, then back to 7 a.m.
Hallac said he was camping on vacation last summer, when Andrew Costello was bitten by a shark. He said his daughter was attending the island’s surf camp and in the water when the attack occurred.
“We are concerned about everyone’ health and welfare, but can’t guarantee the safety of people who go into the water,” he said. “But the data shows that the risk of being injured by a shark is pretty low.”
Last summer the beaches were not closed as a result of the attack.
This year is the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service. Based on a recommendation by the island’s ORV permits manager, Bob Kremser, they are considering having a couple of late afternoon music events near their visitors center in the village.