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By Peter Vankevich
The new plan for Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) management went into effect on Jan. 20 and Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent, David Hallac, with several Park Service staffers, met with islanders Wednesday in the Ocracoke Community Center to discuss the National Park Service’s activities.
Beach access has been a source for frustration from many points of view, and this final rule may have ended many concerns, at least for the time being.
Those attending the meeting did not contest any of the changes and most appeared to be aware of them due to the public outreach over the last few years.
The islanders who attended were interested in discussing several issues, including important information on rip currents and overall beach safety, the public boat launch ramp and the main parking area in the village.
Ruth Fordon, whose sister-in-law drowned from a rip current and whose niece also was caught in it but survived last summer, provided information on rip currents that have not been previously noted in the educational signs and materials. Not just swimmers but those wading in knee-to waist-deep water are also at risk of stumbling into a low spot and being carried out by a rip current as Fordon’s family members were last August.
The traditional wisdom is that rip currents pull people out to sea and those caught in one should to swim parallel to shore. However, rip currents can also drag people under water which is what happened with Fordon’s family members, and people should be aware of that.
Tom Pahl, Ocracoke’s county commissioner, shared his experience of having been caught in the churning rip currents Fordon described and discussed an article published last summer in the Observer. (To read that story, click here.) He said that last summer sand bars were much closer to the beach than usual, which made the surf more dangerous and conditions ripe for rip currents.
Fordon said after the meeting that Boone Vandzura, the head ranger for the Seashore, who has been studying what the park can do to prevent drownings, will work with her and others on the island about improving rip current safety information and assistance.
Hallac noted that the lifeguard contract is official and the public beach will be covered in the same manner as last summer–from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Ocracoke rangers Ed Fuller and Shane Bryan said they encourage bathers to go to the lifeguard area, but not all follow their advice.
Hallac highlighted some of the ORV changes that affect Ocracoke.
The previous weekly permit is now for 10 consecutive days ($50) which will permit users to access the beach for two weekends, and the yearly permit ($120) is now good for one year from date of purchase. Permits can be purchased at any of the three visitor centers, including the one on Ocracoke, or online here.
It is now official that a permit is not necessary to drive on the Devil Shoals Road, located across from the NPS campground.
“We don’t call it Dump Station Road anymore,” Hallac said with a smile. That is the name the road has been traditionally called by locals since it has a station for RV waste disposal. Devil Shoals is located in the sound off that area.
The other access location is called South Bitterswash Creek, located near the pony pasture, which will have parking off the main road and a walking trail to the sound. Hallac noted that these access points were added to the seashore based on input from islanders from previous public meetings. Improving the road and parking areas will depend on getting adequate funding, he said.
He noted that changes in beach buffer zones that will protect nesting birds and sea turtles and permit vehicles access around them.
Hallac had no information to share regarding the just-announced hiring freeze and how it might impact this summer’s operations. Approximately 100 temporary employees are hired to do a variety of tasks including cleaning, maintenance, nature talks and monitoring the nesting areas, he said.
Repairing the Hammock Hills and pony pasture trails could be costly. Alan Sutton, owner of the Tradewinds Tackle Shop, suggested that volunteers could help with the repairs as they have done in other public areas.
Hallac said in an email today that they evaluated the trail yesterday and have developed a plan to get it reopened soon.
Other issues discussed were more access to Southpoint throughout the season and the public boat access ramp to the sound in the village that was not properly repaired due to damage from Hurricane Irene.
The main parking area in the village is managed by the Park Service, and Hallac noted that they are trying to ensure there will be parking for all and keep people from keeping vehicles and trailers there for long periods of time.
Islanders also expressed interest in the park service holding a volunteer beach clean up on Ocracoke as was recently conducted on Hatteras and Hallac said he look into it.
To view the ORV final rule published in the Federal Register, click here.