Many on Outer Banks fear possibility of a ban on off-road vehicles - WHEN IT'S QUITTING TIME on many Friday afternoons at Chris Wilson's job, he dashes to his Virginia Beach home, fetches his wife, jumps in his truck and high-tails it down to the Outer Banks to surf-fish at Cape Point.
"We're down there by 5, 6 o'clock," said Wilson, a groundskeeper at the Princess Anne Athletic Complex. "We set up for the weekend and we have a good ol' time."
Wilson said he usually picks up bait for the couple to divide among about 15 friends who regularly gather at the Buxton beach from as far away as Richmond and Charlotte. They all buy food for cookouts; they stay in their pickup campers all weekend. They go to restaurants, and sometimes, a bar. They get supplies at tackle shops. They buy gas and snacks.
That's what the Wilsons have done, with most of their friends, nearly every weekend between late March and early November. That will all stop if a federal judge rules to ban off-road vehicles from the best fishing areas on the Outer Banks.
"The way I feel about fishing, that's taking my life away," Wilson said in a telephone interview. "If we can't get on the beach, I have no reason to come down there, really."
Two environmental groups, the National Audubon Society and the Defenders of Wildlife, filed a motion Feb. 20 requesting a preliminary injunction against beach driving at sensitive bird breeding and nesting areas in Cape Hatteras National Seashore: Bodie Island Spit, Cape Point and South Beach, Hatteras Spit, North Ocracoke and South Ocracoke.
A hearing on the request is scheduled for 11 a.m. April 3 in Raleigh.
The prospect of those favorite beach spots being closed to ORV traffic - pedestrians would be allowed - for as long as three years has alarmed many in the Outer Banks community, regardless of whether they drive on the beach.
Fishing and recreational beach driving are two of the Outer Banks' most renowned attractions, and tourism is its economic base.
"The bottom line is you're going to see reduced revenues because that's a market we've cultivated for years," said Carolyn McCormick, managing director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. "We already have enough challenges and threats that we're facing in 2008."
McCormick said the negotiating team developing a long-term ORV management plan has requested an economic impact survey. Until that information is available, no accurate assessment can be made on what beach driving in the seashore means to the local economy.
One fear McCormick has is that potential visitors will misconstrue that the beaches are completely closed, and cross off the Outer Banks as a vacation destination.
Carol Garris, an owner of Fishin Fever Bait & Tackle in Kill Devil Hills, said the implications of a ban on beaching driving are dire not just for anglers.
"I don't want this to be seen as a fishing vs. nonfishing issue," she said. "It's really not. It's everything and everyone."
Garris said that anglers who stop in her shop typically come to the Outer Banks every year, often several times a year. Some buy property. Most head to Hatteras, where they follow the birds flying over the surf to find the fish.
"What I've been hearing is they're not going to come back if they have nowhere to fish," she said. "They'll find somewhere else to go."
Few people will be inclined to haul tackle boxes, buckets, fishing poles, pole holders, an ice chest for bait, an ice chest for fish, an ice chest for drinks, beach umbrellas, hip and chest waders, chairs, children, beach towels and dogs through hot sand.
Not only that, the only parking on the islands is at a limited number of beach access ramps, and there's not much of it, said Larry Hardham, president of the Cape Hatteras Anglers Club. Then, if you can find a spot, the walk from the ramp can be mighty long on a humid summer's day - as much as four miles each way to Hatteras Spit and more than a mile to Cape Point.
"How many Americans other than those who walk daily are going to walk eight miles?" he said.
If the most popular beaches are closed, the open beaches that are accessible without ORVs, like Coquina Beach, could quickly become overcrowded.
And the numerous surf-fishing tournaments will be at risk of being scaled down or, especially on Ocracoke, canceled. The much-anticipated contests attract thousands of visitors to the barrier islands and pour millions into local businesses.
"I really feel sorry for the people down there in Buxton," Wilson said. "It's going to really hurt the economy."
Catherine Kozak, The Virginian-Pilot