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Park Service May 'Hit the Brakes' on Driving on the Beach

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CAPE HATTERAS — It will be a while untilHighway 12looks like it did beforeDennistore it up. It is a popular roadway, as is the beach to the left and right. However, all the four-wheel drive vehicles may have to get off the beach.

The peaceful, scenic sunset on North Carolina'sOuter Banksis not what attracts Willis Rash to the barrier islands.

"I've been coming down here for 25 years, right now for the Spanish Mackerel. In the fall, we come for the stripers and the drum," said Rash.

Rash and hundreds of other people fish on the coastline far from the asphalt roads. To get there, they have to drive along the beach.

"You would have a mighty long walk to come out here and fish if you couldn't drive out here," said Rash.

"Right now it's come one, come all. We have very few restrictions," said Chief Park Ranger Jeff Cobb.

However, theNational Park Serviceis considering charging a fee for the privilege of driving on 75 miles of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The money generated would fund a study on the effects of beach driving on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Park rangers say the study is long overdue.

"I doubt in the foreseeable future we would put a total ban on it. But again, we have no data, so I can't tell you what we will do," said Cobb.

"I don't like it. I don't like it at all," said Rash.

Beach driving has been a long-standing tradition in North Carolina. Four-wheel drive trucks from all over the East Coast spend the day crawling through the sand.

For fishermen, driving across the sand is the only way to reach the point of Hatteras Island, and talk of a fee and permit is growing like a fish story.

"I think it's going to be the beginning of the end if they start regulating to come out on the beach," said Rash.

"We need the permit. The permit system will provide us with data, because we have none now," said Cobb.

Rash says if it is data the Park Service wants, it is data they will get. He says the Park Service is about to get more input from beach driving enthusiasts than it could ever imagine.

"As long as enough people pull together and argue and fight about it, I think we have a good chance of not having this," said Rash.

The National Park Service has no idea when it may start charging a fee. In fact, the whole idea is still in the planning stages.

Rangers say if you have something to say about it, they want to hear from you before making any decisions.


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