Download Here also: ORV Plan Response to DIFF Members

An Open Letter to DIFF Members on the National Park Service Off-Road Vehicle Plan for Cape Lookout National Seashore

Dear DIFF Member,

While many users of Cape Lookout National Seashore (CALO) would like to roll back the clock on regulations governing driving at Portsmouth and Davis Islands, it is clear there is no going back. The National Park Service (NPS) has at last issued their Off Road Vehicle Plan in response to 1970’s era Executive Orders and lawsuits aimed at the NPS enforcing these orders. The full text of the plan is available on line at and is a daunting 588 pages. Our purpose in writing this letter is to summarize the plan issues as they relate to ORV use and to inform DIFF members of some real problems with the NPS recommended Alternative. Only by understanding the ramifications of the plan can we respond with forceful, rational, personal and effective suggestions during the 60 day public comment period which expires at midnight on July 21st. If each of us takes the time to craft well thought out comments based on our personal experience using and enjoying the Park, we can influence the ORV management on the island for years to come, for ourselves and our children. At the end of this letter, you will find links and means to do that.

While the Park Service has put forth five different plans for consideration, they are recommending “Alternative C”. Even though they discuss five alternatives, this is not really a vote, but more a process to get buy-in from various Park constituencies – in other words, a compromise between environmentalists who would close the Park to ORV use, ORV users and pedestrian visitors and campers. Despite some misgivings, we believe the best course for DIFF, and the way to have the biggest impact, is to support Alternative C but only if there are modifications.

There are some good management practices that will follow from Alternative C’s implementation including improvements to the back road and the construction of a number of turnouts to facilitate passing as well as an increase in the number of ramps to access the beach.

At the same time, there will be changes in the mobile surf-fishing experience we have come to know over the last 9 years. The biggest of these potentially, is the intrinsic role of a concept known as “Adaptive Management” (AM). Adaptive Management is a learn-by-doing process that sets goals with measurable indicators and provides flexibility to park management to make changes to meet them. If goals are met, we keep driving. If not, Park management must take measured steps to ensure species success. To grossly oversimplify, AM means that the NPS will establish four benchmarks for the American Oyster Catcher (AMOY) – a shore bird on the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission listing as a species of “Special Concern”. Goals measuring breeding success are proposed and in the event they are not met, the NPS can take incremental unilateral steps – including further restrictions on ORV use or banning beach driving until the goals are met.

This and other concerns are enumerated in the table below as part of the summary of selected problems, and recommendations. By no means is this a complete accounting of all the changes that will affect ORV use or the fishing experience enjoyed by mobile Park visitors. As a final caution, this letter is focused primarily on South Core Banks and may not address many issues specific to Portsmouth.

Alternative C

Summary of selected problems, recommendations and rationale for changes:



Night driving ban (9:00 pm to 6:00 am). Table pp. 100

Needed Modifications

a. Allow driving on back road anytime.
b. Allow access to beach near open ramps but limit speed and range to a few hundred yards in each direction from the ramp entrance.
c. Allow parking, fishing and sleeping anywhere on open beach areas in accordance with current regulations. Vehicle movement permitted to evade flood tides or other emergencies.


Night driving does not need to be banned because of the option to use the back road. There is no scientific evidence presented that passing vehicles off the beach with headlights on or ephemeral lighting affects turtle or bird nesting outcomes.



30′ overall vehicle length limit, trailer length limits. pp. 60

Needed Modification

Allow length limit currently imposed by ferry concessionaire = 40′.


The limit on vehicle length is arbitrary. With an improved back road, congestion issues and maneuverability will be facilitated.



Driver education certificate and annual renewal. pp. 56

Needed Modifications

a. Allow on-line and multi-location issuance (CALO and Ferry Offices)
b. Allow multi-year certificate renewal coincident with driver license renewal


An annual certificate is a waste of NPS resources and unnecessary. The NC Dept. of Motor Vehicles has determined that driver, passenger and pedestrian safety is adequately secured by multi-year operator licenses.



Vehicle permit limit of a) 3000 for South Core and 2500 for North Core and b) cost. pp. 63

Needed Modifications

a. Single permit allows access to both islands.
b. We recommend no permit limits. CALO has built-in and natural barriers keeping vehicle numbers on the islands to reasonable limits. Limiting permits will pose many logistical issues that create more problems than solutions. Permits should be available on-line, by phone, mail, at Harkers Island or at the islands.
c. The NPS is proposing $80 for 10 day and $150 for annual vehicle permits. We think this is high and recommend $50 for the short term permit (10 days). NPS should consider waiving the permit fee in cases of financial hardship and other special situations.


a. Many visitors use both North and South Core and 2 permits could be a financial burden.
b. Realistically, the Park can’t have more operating vehicles than a combination of ferry service capacity and ORV’s in LT parking. Limiting permits does not correlate with the number of vehicles on the beach at any given time. A superior control method already exists: controlling beach access in sensitive areas with ramp to ramp closures. The annual DIFF fishing tournament represents the usage highpoint and there is not an

overcrowded condition on the island. Having a permit limit creates administrative problems such as allocation (lottery, first come first served, etc.) which would create difficulties for users trying to make reservations. What happens if a permit holder becomes ill and can’t go to the island? What happens if you buy a permit but can’t get reservations for the time you are able to visit or vice-verse?

c. Respecting the costs of the permit, there should be some consideration for ORV users who make limited visits annually and who have low to moderate means.
d. It is financially imprudent to limit revenues by limiting the number of permits in the face of a plan the NPS knows is not fully funded. Having an unlimited number of permits delivers the maximum amount of revenue.



Cost of Alternative C is borne by ORV permit holders, not other Park users.

Needed Modification

The Park Service projects $454,500 in increased costs for Alternative C, but these are not all attributable to ORV users, therefore pedestrian users should share in them. We recommend a $5 to $10 fee for non-ORV park users per visit. The public should have complete visibility on expenditures and revenues related to Alt. C.


Shelters, trash collection, resource protection, interpretation and education, pedestrian facilities and maintenance, and predator control are not costs exclusively attributable to ORV users. Other Park users should bear some of the increased costs that the NPS wants ORV users alone to bear.



Seasonal reduction in long term parking spaces (from 150 to 90 during the summer season), moving parking lot to the north end of the Great Island cabins and away from dock. pp. 60

Needed Modification

Recommend no reduction in number of spaces. Possible division of current lot into two lots, new one behind ranger station to shield parking from cabins.


The seeming reason for moving the Great Island LT parking lot is aesthetic, not managerial or environmental. The lot needs to remain proximate to the ferry dock. Moving the LT lot as proposed, creates a hardship for people with physical or mobility issues when retrieving vehicles.



Creation of new (1.9 miles) pedestrian-only area in front of Great Island cabins and Codd Creek (.8 miles at ramp 35a and b) from Memorial Day through Labor Day and expansion of lighthouse pedestrian only area by .7 miles from ramp 41a to ramp 42b year round for a total permanent closure of 1.4 miles. pp. 62

Needed Modifications

a. The Great Island cabin area does not have adequate road space to permit all vehicular traffic as well pedestrian foot traffic to safely use the back road.
b. Beach driving is necessary for safe travel past the cabins and for beach access for elderly and disabled so they can readily access restroom and bath facilities.

c. Keep ramps at Great Island cabins and 41a open.


a. There is no room on the ocean side of the cabins to widen the road to accommodate the increased traffic caused by the pedestrian-only beach closure, without cutting into the dune area.
b. Grandma may have some difficulty hoofing from the cabin to the beach area, then to

the restroom, shower and back. It would be nice if someone could give her a ride.
c. Other proposed pedestrian closures should be based on the demonstration of need and some real numbers. Few, if any visitors will hike more than a couple hundred yards to secure a piece of beach. The lighthouse already has a .7 mile pedestrian-only beach area going approximately 600 yards in each direction from the walkway.



Ban on high performance sport models and 2 stroke ATV’s and UTV’s phased in over 5 years. pp. 59

Needed Modification

No ban


So long as these vehicles are operating in accordance with the Park rules, they pose no special or unique environmental threat.



Ramp Spacing pp. 58 & 59

Needed Modification

The Alt C plan calls for up to 5 additional ramps on South Core Banks. While this is a positive step, we need to have as many as 9 new ramps to deal with the likelihood of increasing ramp to ramp closures due to American Oyster Catcher (AMOY) nesting, turtle nesting and plovers. Or, a less permanent solution is the creation of access at temporary ramps where feasible.


Ramps, once opened, require minimal maintenance and will allow greater beach access given the current spacing of approximately 1 mile. Adding 8 new ramps to the existing proposal is a one-time cost but could add up to 4 miles of additional miles of open beach during nesting periods. We think a proper spacing of ramps is 1⁄2 mile given the required breeding buffers for listed species.



The cost to implement Alt C is $454,500 above the “no action plan” with the largest increase ($180,000) allocated toward enforcement. pp 526

Needed Modification

Shift spending from enforcement to resource management.


With higher budgets for education, including the driver certificate, the number of enforcement officers should not need a disproportionate increase. “Adaptive Management” is dependent upon accurate species monitoring and data collection. The enforcement money is better spent on improved and clearer markers, signage, and resource protection to achieve “Indicator Species” goals and protect endangered species with predator excluders, monitoring and relocation as needed. In addition, CALO has lost monitoring manpower with no participation from NCSU for 2014. Adequate numbers of properly trained monitors are the key to accurately measure goals under Adaptive Management. Findings by NCSU on AMOY nesting conclude that uncertainties about the causes of nesting failures can be reduced by improved monitoring, leading to improved decisions.

11 Problem

a. American Oyster Catcher (AMOY) as “Indicator Species” under “Adaptive Management”. The danger in using a single species indicator is the possibility that all other species may be thriving but if the AMOY is lagging, ORV access could be restricted in an over- reaction.

b. goals and thresholds established for the species show inconsistency. c. wording on pp. 57 under “Adaptive Management Strategy” needs correction with respect to step 1.

Needed Modifications

a. Recommend selecting a basket of indicator species where performance is measured as a whole against goals to determine NPS actions. This methodology better reflects the NPS wildlife protection mandate.
b. For consistency, all Indicators should have a 10 % cushion below the goal before a minor impact is triggered. The indicator target for “nest survival” exceeds the 12 year median. (see link to DIFF website on “Indicator Species”)

c. Step 1 should include the same exculpatory language concerning “hurricanes, or other strong storms, predators, or other natural conditions not tied to impacts from visitor use” as step 2.


a. Putting all eggs in one measurement basket has statistical risks that a composite of measurements does not. It is accepted that species populations rise and fall cyclically, and is not necessarily the result of human causality.
b. The indicator target exceeds the 12 year median making the goal a stretch. Furthermore, a minor impact should not be triggered unless the indicator falls some margin below the target. We recommend 10% so that minor deviations do not trigger an impact level.

c. Step 1 should provide the same flexibility in management actions as step 2, if indicators are triggered due to natural conditions unrelated to visitor use.

Now is the time for you to provide the NPS with feedback on how the ORV Plan will affect your visits. Remember, numbers matter and constructive suggestions matter more. For more information go to: or and click on the link “document list”. Select from the list “CALO ORV Management Plan/Public meeting presentation”, then again on CALO Public Presentation. The presentation briefly summarizes major elements and importantly, offers advice for effective and constructive commentary.

Go to to make your comments. July 21 is the deadline.


Only Substantive comments receive consideration; they are defined as those that:

  1. Question, with reasonable basis, the accuracy of information in the plan.
  2. Question, with reasonable basis, the adequacy of environmental, cultural, or socioeconomic


  1. Present reasonable alternatives other than those in the draft plan.
  2. Cause changes or revisions to the management actions proposed in the alternatives.

For questions about the ORV Plan, contact any of the following:

Ed Caskey Mark Weir
Scot King Gordon Jones David Holcomb Lance Brown Brandon Scott Rich Lambert

803-320-3778 336-306-0050 919-880-5573 704-904-4736

704-437-4031 336-558-7942


From the President,

I would like to thank our ORV Committee for all their hard work in condensing this 600 + page document into something we all can better understand. Mark Weir is our Chair for the Committee. Scot King and Gordon Jones compiled all of our most pressing issues into this letter. We all have spent many hours with travel and meetings.

Please respond to NPS concerning how this plan will affect your enjoyment on CALO. Regards,

Ed Caskey DIFF President