13 September 2010

Blogging is Activism: Assateague Island Letter

As mentioned in previous posts, I've been enjoying the use of the Virginia shore this summer.  A lovely place and certainly a slower pace of life, but with a good thing, it seems that it is never meant to last.  This is especially true when it comes to accessing our public lands and parks where the environment always seems to be the battle cry for proposing limitations.  Thus it comes as no major shock that a change has been proposed that would ultimately limit access to the Virginia portion of Assateague Island's National Seashore.

It has been proposed that instead of allowing for visitors to park near the beach, a practice that has been done without many problems for decades, the parking will be vacated from the beach and moved to neighboring Chincoteague Island, where patrons will be bussed to the national park.  As a user of the park, I certainly have no issues paying the $30 a year fee to access the natural beauty of the park but damnit, why change something that works?  Yes, the near beach parking has erosion problems, but that's natural.  Yes, they monitor the number of vehicles and people that enter the area so as not to have too much detrimental impact.  So, why is that where man and nature have been able to coexist for decades, a change is needed?  Certainly it can't be a cost savings to construct and maintain new parking lots, maintain buses, pay bus drivers, and increase the liability insurance? 

Needless to say, the only way to make your voice heard is to offer input during the public comment period and I did just that on Friday.  I have yet to receive any reply from the refuge manager, the Congressman for the Congressional area of Virginia, or even my Congressman.  We shall see what they say and if the public outcry out weights the lunacy of what will surly have unintended consequences. 

September 10, 2009

Mr. Lou Hinds, Refuge Manager:
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge  
P.O. Box 62
Chincoteague Island, VA  23336 

Mr. Hinds: 

I hope this letter finds you well this day proceeding Patriots Day.  I am writing to you to discuss the proposed changes to Assateague Island's Virginia beach and refuge access. 

It is my understanding that a study is being conducted that would potentially change the way that refuge patrons access the park.  Instead of providing parking for personal vehicles, patrons will be bused to the shore areas and allowed to roam about the park on foot.  While I understand that this might decrease the environmental impact that personal vehicles have on the refuge itself, I have to question whether the unintended consequences have been considered. 

Presently, my family and I use the park for a variety of reasons including summer ocean access, fall surf fishing, and of course, year round photography.  All of these activities involve moving a significant amount of personal belongings to take full advantage of the environment and our hobbies.  Additionally, these outdoor activity items are heavy at best and bulky at worst.  We are able to use the refuge during it's convenient operating hours and we rarely have to wait for a parking spot to access our favorite spot on the beach.  Nor have we been inconvenienced by your maintenance staff's ability to repair the parking lots after events such as Earl.  (Many kudos and thanks to their timely and efficient operations as were witnessed this past weekend). 

I am concerned that with a public transportation system to access the refuge and shore, personal items such as surfboards, coolers, surf fishing rods, and umbrellas will be prohibited from buses.  If these items are prohibited from being transported on the public transportation system, it would effectively limit my reasons from coming to Assateague Island and enjoying the investments made in outdoor adventure gear.  Should a policy be implemented that still allows for the use and carry of these items, it will most certainly cut down on the number of people per transport and directly limit public usability.  As the Commissioners of Accomack County have also expressed, moving vast amounts of people and personal effects posses a great risk in any adverse weather event.  I would certainly hope that such a condition would not ultimately limit public access to the refuge as a mitigation for liability. 

Finally, I believe this policy will discourage pack in pack out doctrine.  I am aware that the refuge does provide some trash service, but my family and I do our best to minimize our footprint and environmental impact but packing in our food, and more importantly, packing out all of our refuse.  Being conservationist minded, I can foresee a higher amount of litter because people will not want to carry the weight back to bus lines after a long day on the beach or to the refuse containers near by.

Assateague Island and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge are a great asset to the community of the Virginia shore.  Considering my parents just finished a house local to the area, I have immensely enjoyed reacquainting myself with the natural beauty found here.  While I have fond memories of the refuge as a child, I hope to develop fonder memories with my wife and future children.  I hope that you find these comments helpful in weighting upon the decision to be made with regards to the change in parking.  Should you wish to discuss my concerns personally, I welcome the opportunity and maybe reached via mail above or in email reply.  Additionally, I may be reached any time via cellular phone.

Thank you again for the consideration of this input.