Cape Hatteras driving restricts anglers

Surf fishers winced Wednesday when the National Park Service set the fees it will charge, starting Feb. 15, for permits to drive on beaches at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore: $50 for a week, $120 for a year.

"That seems a little steep," said Mac Currin of Raleigh, 61, who tutors a few dozen students in the Outer Banks Surf Fishing School each year during the fall fishing season. "I'm all for protecting the endangered species. It needs to be done. It's unfortunate that anglers pay the price for that, though."

The park service agreed to restrict beach driving when it settled a 2007 lawsuit filed by three environmental organizations. Many miles of beaches were placed off-limits that year. But final rules for vehicle permits were just published in January, and the agency announced fees and other details Wednesday.

The access restrictions are designed mostly to protect endangered turtles and rare shorebirds that nest on the beach. But some of the new rules are intended to please people who visit the seven villages of Hatteras Island. The villages are not part of the national seashore, but the adjoining beaches are.

Vehicles will be allowed on about 12 miles of the village beaches only between Nov. 1 and March 31. Driving previously was allowed there from mid-September through May, covering most of the fall and spring fishing seasons.

"Folks like to be able to come to a national seashore and not have vehicles on the beaches in front of the cottages they are renting," Cyndy Holda, spokeswoman for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, said from her Manteo office.

Frank Folb caters to surf fishers at Frank and Fran's, his Avon tackle shop. Anglers drive on the beaches because public-access parking areas are often several miles apart, especially within the villages, he said.

"What they've done is privatize that beach during the fall," said Folb, 68.

"We use vehicles to get to the area we want to go fishing. It's not that we run up and down and jump dunes and stuff," Folb said.

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore includes about 68 miles of beachfront from south of Nag's Head to Ocracoke, excluding the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Holda said the new rules still allow vehicles on 28 miles year-round, and an additional 13 miles during late autumn and winter.

Drivers will have to watch an instructional video, carry certain equipment and meet other requirements to get a permit. The park service will use the fees to help cover the cost of providing beach access and protection.

Bernie McCants of Raleigh, 63, has been driving and fishing on the Hatteras Island beaches since 1975. He objected to new rules that ban vehicles from some of the best fishing spots near Ocracoke village, Cape Point, and Oregon and Hatteras inlets.

"I've never objected to paying a fee," McCants said. "Because it costs the government to maintain the access ramps and provide rangers on the beach. But the thing that frosts me is the fact they permanently closed down four really popular fishing areas."