OBX Beach Access History

History of Beach Access
on the Outer Banks of North Carolina

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Recreation Area was created for the enjoyment of the public based on Congressional Legislation enacted into law.1

The enabling legislation guaranteed the right to recreation and the right for fishing. From 16 USC 459: “said area shall be, and is, established, dedicated, and set apart as a national seashore recreational area for the benefit and enjoyment of the people and shall be known as the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area”.

As for a wilderness preservation, a specific exception was made for sailing, swimming, boating, and fishing. From 16 USC 459(a)(2): “Except for certain portions of the area, deemed to be especially adaptable for recreational uses, particularly swimming, boating, sailing, fishing, and other recreational activities of similar nature, which shall be developed for such uses as needed…."

In fact, in 1952 during discussions of adjusting the boundaries of the Seashore, Park Service Director Conrad Wirth wrote an open letter to the people of the Outer Banks
reassuring them that the beaches would continue to be open for their use, stating, “…when the lands for the Recreational Area are acquired and become public property there will always be access to the beach for all people, whether they are local residents or visitors from the outside.”

This access has always included vehicles – in fact, before there were roads built in the Outer Banks, the beaches were the roads.

Wirth’s 1952 letter also states a clear intent to continue to allow vehicle access in the Seashore, specifically noting that “it will be necessary to establish certain regulations, such as to designate places for vehicles to get to the beach, in order to reduce sand dune erosion to a minimum…”

Hatteras islanders have expressed over years of arrogance from park service management, as illustrated in this 3-Part series (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3).

In addition, the NPS was operating under an Interim Management plan that regularly closed portions of the beaches for wildlife.

Add to the pot of frustration that the NPS, environmental groups, and local governments and businesses (including fishermen) were already conducted Negotiated Rulemaking (allowing for public comment), when the environmental groups participating in the negotiating rulemaking apparently short circuited the process by filing the lawsuit. The result was perceived as a back-room deal imposed by a judge that needs not reveal his justification to the public.

More info here.

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