By Sam Walker on October 3, 2013
The past two years, it was hurricanes. Now, just as fall fishing was set to shift into high gear, the federal government shutdown has created a storm of its own along the Cape Hatteras Nation Seashore.
Beaches and piers are closed. Charter boats can no longer operate out of Oregon Inlet.
“It’s like a small hurricane, we’re preparing for the worst, and hoping for the best,” said Cyndy Holda, public affairs specialist for the National Park Service Outer Banks Group.
The Park Service was forced to close Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Wright Brothers National Memorial and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site because Congress could not agree on keeping most government services funded.
The closing of Cape Hatteras National Seashore also means the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center and Avon Pier, along with several businesses that rent horses for riding on the beach, must cease their “concession” operations.
Although the business themselves may own the buildings and inventory inside them, they are located on National Park Service land.
A skeleton crew of 13 staff members, including eight law enforcement Park Rangers, will available to cover all three Outer Banks Group parks, Holda said, so they have to close the concessions because of potential safety issues.
Similar situations are happening at National Parks across the country, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, which remains open to traffic, but adjacent facilities such as visitors centers and campground, along with privately operated lodges, restaurants and attractions on the popular road in the North Carolina and Virginia mountains closed their doors this week.
The operators of the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway attempted to defy the closure order, however, even though the Park Service owns the land and buildings.
About two hours after they tried to reopen on Friday, rangers blocked the inn’s access road at the direction of Park Service management in Washington and the operators shuttered again. Click for link to USA Today story
Oregon Inlet Fishing Center closed after the boats returned to the docks on Tuesday.
“Captains can keep their boats overnight there during the shutdown, but they just can’t conduct business there after (Tuesday),” Holda said.
Even though they could keep their boats at the fishing center, nearly all the captains have since made arrangements to pick up and drop off charters at other marinas, but that’s meant more money out of their pockets.
“I’ve gone to Pirates Cove and I’m paying additional dock rent, paying additional fuel to run up and down the (Roanoke Sound),” said Billy Maxwell, captain of the Tuna Fever, who said he already has trips booked for the next two months.
Maxwell and the other captains are considered “subconcessions” of the Park Service and have a contract that is part of their using the fishing center for their charter operations.
While the fishing center is closed, it has not been made immediately clear if the boats will still have to pay for rental space there during the shutdown.
“I can’t operate my business out of there, but I will be responsible for my dues (to the fishing center) and be responsible to give the Park Service a financial statement at the end of the year that showed I paid,” Maxwell said.
Avon Pier closed at noon Tuesday just as the winds and surf from a weekend nor’easter offshore had died down.
Manager Keith Matthews disputes the Park Service’s explanation that safety was behind ordering concessionaires to close.
“They have no liability. The liability falls on us. We have to carry the insurance to cover anybody that goes on the pier,” Matthews said. “They have no government employees that work here.”
“We’re using our own employees, doing the same thing we’ve always done. Why all of a sudden because they don’t have people to cover the pier we have to close it?” Matthews said. “That’s what I don’t understand.”
Matthews said he had up to 50 vehicles parked in his lot Tuesday morning because visitors couldn’t park in any of the Park Service lots to access the beaches.
“We’ve been two years without being open at all this time of year because of hurricanes,” Matthews said. “Now we’re battling Hurricane Park Service.”
One Hatteras village marina that also offers lodging said Thursday they have had several one-week and three-night renters cancel their upcoming reservations because of the beach closures.
Tackle shops up and down Hatteras and Ocracoke islands have already seen a major drop in business and have heard complaints from vacationers who purchased beach driving permits from the Park Service but were not told the beaches could close to access on Tuesday.
Even with the closings, there has still been some surf fishing by those intrepid enough to find their way on to the beach to wet a line, and they have been rewarded with good weather and catches.
And many fishermen who drive off-road vehicles have elected to instead travel north to Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills. See story »
With no one knowing when the shutdown will end, there could be serious ramifications for several popular surf-fishing tournaments in the coming weeks that had to be reworked or cancelled altogether because of Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012.
“There are a number of surf-fishing tournaments coming up soon and we need them badly. But they can’t happen if the beaches are closed,” said Capt. Marty Brill, Max Radio of the Carolina’s fishing reporter.