Outer Bankers Unhappy Over Driving Rules
On North Carolina's Outer Banks, there is a long stretch of barrier island where people typically leave nothing behind but footprints in the sand.
The people who come to this place fish, swim or watch the birds. Then they leave. In the winter, it's a windswept land of quiet solitude.
It's not the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It's Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.
The 13-mile stretch of barrier island just south of the Oregon Inlet bridge is exactly what its name implies: Established in 1937, it is 25,000 acres of sand and marsh set aside primarily as a sanctuary for birds. While some areas of the refuge are managed so that birders and fishermen can enjoy it, others are closed off to the public.
Before the refuge was established, the area wasn't pristine wilderness devoid of people. It was a favored haunt of duck hunters.
It's worth considering that history as debate continues to rage over the use of the far larger piece of publicly owned land on the Outer Banks, the 67-mile-long Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
The National Park Service recently announced its new rules for driving along the seashore's beaches, rules intended to protect shorebirds and sea turtles. Locals aren't happy. Some are suing.
The rules place 26 miles of the 67-mile-long seashore permanently off-limits to beach driving. The Park Service will also begin requiring permits - costing from $90 to $150 a year and about one-third of that for a week.
To get one of those permits, beach drivers will have to watch a seven-minute video encouraging safe and eco-friendly driving.
Local business owners say the rules will mean frustrated tourists, then fewer of them, and then less business.
On the first score, there can be no doubt. Most visitors may have no problem taking seven minutes out of their vacation to secure a permit. But when have government bureaucrats ever set up such requirements that didn't involve long lines and long waits?
So, the prediction of fewer visitors may also come true.
Vacationing in the communities touching the Cape Hatteras National Seashore isn't like vacationing along the rest of the North Carolina coast. The beaches are undeveloped, and four-wheeling to get where you are going on the beach is a part of the experience.
So what does any of this have to do with Pea Island, that intersecting land set aside as a wildlife refuge?
Well, the national seashore wasn't created for the same purpose. Yes, it was always intended to preserve the land in a pristine state.
But the park's own strategic plan makes clear what was known and stated from the park's beginning, also in 1937: The Cape Hatteras National Seashore was created for "the benefit and enjoyment of the people."
It was as much about keeping some portion of the beaches in the public trust, so that rich and poor alike could always enjoy them, as it was about preserving wildlife.
Somewhere along the line, that seems to have been forgotten.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at email@example.com.
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