Access to Cape Hatteras
If you think that access issues are the exclusive domain of the western part of the United States, think again. For the folks who live near and/or visit the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, beach access is becoming a life and death issue especially as it relates to their local economy.
By way of background, back in 2007, the National Audubon Society, the Defenders of Wildlife and Southern Environmental Law Center filed suit in a Federal District Court against the National Park Service because the Park Service did not have a travel management plan for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. In an attempt to resolve the lawsuit, the Park Service negotiated an interim agreement to satisfy the concerns of the plaintiffs. The long and the short of it is that the interim plan would ban OHV travel at night during the peak summer and shoulder seasons and altogether at certain breeding grounds. The proposed plan is subject to approval by a Federal judge and that approval could occur within a matter of days. The interim plan, once official, would remain in effect until a permanent OHV management plan is completed by a deadline of April 1, 2011.
Needless to say, sport fishermen, OHV enthusiasts, and the County Commissioners for Dare and Currituck Counties are less than pleased. To be blunt about it, they are livid. The national economy is hurting local real estate sales, high gas prices are cutting down on vacation travel, and limiting access to some of the most exciting sport fishing grounds on the east coast seems to be the last straw. To those who like to cast out that first line at the crack of dawn, the new regulations will make that a little more difficult. Perhaps they will have to pitch a tent for a sleepover on the beach, but then, I'm not sure that's legal either.
A number of ARRA members have contacted me and have asked why we haven't focused on the Cape Hatteras issue. They are exactly right. We should have and for this oversight, our apologies. We do know that a number of citizens in North Carolina have been contacting their congressional delegation in hopes that the Congress will intervene to ensure that OHV access to Cape Hatteras remains unrestricted. For them, beach driving and surf fishing are beloved local traditions dating back far before this particular National Seashore was created in the 1930's. Congressional pressure is certainly needed to change this situation. The Park Service claims that the interim plan will not adversely impact access to the Seashore. That's not what local folks think. We will check back in a couple of months to see who is right, but on the face of it, it seems like the Park Service is trying to put a positive spin on a bad outcome.
More Access Issues for the National Park Service
A class action lawsuit by a group of disabled Americans has been filed in a Federal District Court in San Francisco against the National Park Service. The plaintiffs claim that gaining access to National Park Service sites is difficult, if not impossible, in some cases due to physical barriers. The suit charges that park administrators have "systemically discriminated against plaintiffs on the basis of their disabilities." One plaintiff said that to a certain degree this is a money issue since the Park Service lacks sufficient funds to retrofit parks and exhibits to remove physical barriers, and to a larger degree it is a lack of commitment to the overall concept of accessibility.
The National Park Service has responsibility for hundreds of sites and facilities throughout the country. Many are historic structures were built in the 19th and 20th centuries when addressing disability issues was not a factor in architectural design. While the Park Service has made some progress in making its facilities more accessible, we find it rather ironic that other policies being implemented will make facilities and public lands less accessible. Cape Hatteras is a case in point. It's a vicious circle. Some lawsuits demand accessibility while others seek to limit it.
Participate in the Travel Management Survey
ARRA, in cooperation of with a number of other national groups, is sponsoring a survey on the U.S. Forest Service Travel Management Rule process. If you have participated in the implementation process or even if you haven't, your input is important. If you haven't already completed the survey, please visit this URL for more information: <http://www.arra-access.com/ct/kdzUY291TSdT/>
A couple of weeks ago, I made a promise to myself that in the May newsletter I wouldn't write a single word about the ongoing 2008 presidential primary process. I did so because I figured you are probably tired of me writing about it. But, I must confess, I can't help myself. Every day provides a new twist in presidential campaign lore. Former President Bill Clinton continues to stir up controversy by saying things that are best left unsaid like mentioning Hillary's sniper fire incident and Senator Obama probably wishes he had attended a different church. His former pastor is now an albatross for the Obama campaign due to inflammatory remarks he made when preaching a sermon and speaking before the National Press Club.
Neither candidate seems close to giving up the fight and may well take it all the way to the national convention. John McCain seems to be enjoying the fact that the Democratic Party is still preoccupied with the primaries rather than focusing on the November elections. Maybe so, but he can't take much comfort with a slowing economy and skyrocketing gas prices.
Despite all the campaigning and public appearances, the presidential candidates barely whisper anything about public lands other than comments for or against the use of public lands for the exploration of new energy sources. Food prices are going through the ceiling because we are converting corn to produce ethanol and some areas of the world are facing food shortages, but somehow using our public lands for energy independence seems very controversial. The Congress would rather designate more wilderness areas so oil and gas production is out of the question. But the whispers are certainly going to get louder come 2009. And one thing is certain, rather than dealing with hard issues like new energy sources and food supplies, some folks will want the new Congress to make OHV recreation on public lands a major issue. Maybe it will take empty gas pumps and grocery store shelves before we get our priorities straight.
Be warned and be prepared. 2009 is going to be a tough year. OHV recreation on public lands will be an issue next year. Responsible use and practices on our part have never been more important.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access