Anyone who has followed the National Park Service’s efforts to formulate an off-road vehicle plan for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore knows that far-reaching changes to the traditional use of our beaches are coming. They are changes that will affect the culture and the economy of Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. It’s also been apparent for at least the last decade that one of the biggest of those changes will be the requirement that residents and visitors to buy a permit to drive on the beach. All who want to drive on the beach will have to buy one – whether you have lived here all your life, are visiting for a week, or just passing through for a day.
Park service is making the permits effective on Feb. 15. Permits will go on sale when – or right after – the rule becomes effective in February.
Residents and visitors will have to apply for the permits in person at one of the structure sights. They will watch a 7-minute educational video about beach driving and regulations and sign an agreement that they understand and will abide by the rules. Then they will receive either a sticker for the windshield or a permit that will hang on the vehicle’s rear view mirror, depending on whether they have purchased an annual or seven-day permit. Annual or seven-day permits will be the only choices. There will be no daily permits. If you have more than one vehicle that you drive to the beach, you will need a permit for each one.
Now for the big question: How much will they cost? The Park Service said the cost would be similar to what is charged at Cape Cod or Assateague national seashores and mentions the range of $90 to $150 for an annual permit. Weekly permits are estimated around $30-$50. There is no limit on the number of permits that can be sold, but the Park Service has set carrying capacity for the beaches. When beaches reach the carrying capacity, no more vehicles will be allowed until some leave. In addition, vehicles will be allowed to park only one deep on the beach – stacking of vehicles behind each other will not be allowed. Currently night-driving permits, which are available online, are required for driving at night from Sept. 16-Nov. 15. Under the permit system, night driving times and restrictions will be part of the permit, so you won’t need another one to drive at night in the fall. Also, permits can be revoked if the person who is permitted violates the rules, especially for serious offenses, such as drunk driving or driving in a closed resource area.
All in all, it’s fair to say that the rules about the permits are going to be difficult for some folks to adjust to. For many, the changes will be a shock.