Piping Mad: The story behind the documentary that is going viral on the Internet - Shooting The Breeze


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Piping Mad: The story behind the documentary that is going viral on the Internet

Monday 13 September 2010 at 4:21 pm.

Jeff Johnston is the chief executive officer of the Greystone Project, a public affairs and public relations company based in New York.

He is also an avid fisherman.  He’s been coming to Hatteras to fish for  more than 20 years and likes nothing better than to load his gear in his off-road vehicle and head to Cape Point for four or five or six days of fishing.

He did not like what he saw happening on the island after a court-sanctioned consent decree that ended a lawsuit by environmental groups against the National Park Service and resulted in extensive beach closures for nesting birds and turtles on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Rob Schonk started coming to Hatteras as a youngster with his parents and siblings in about 1958.

He said that for years, his parents, Robert M. Schonk Sr. and his wife Jean, brought the family to Hatteras from Norfolk every other weekend all year. They had a trailer and set up at Cape Point Campground – winter, summer, spring, and fall – taking a ferry over Oregon Inlet to get here before the Bonner Bridge was built.

He drifted away from his island visits during college and his early career as a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy as both a civil and environmental engineer.

Eventually, he came back to his island roots, and now at age 58, he has recently retired and is living in Avon.

Schonk also did not like what he saw happening to reasonable beach access on Hatteras Island.

The two men would probably never have met each other, except for a series of serendipitous circumstances and the determination of one couple – Kim Mosher and Kevin McCabe – who also did not like what was happening on the island, from the large beach closures under the consent decree to a change in the island lifestyle and culture to the trapping and killing of other animals to protect birds and turtles.

However, through Mosher and McCabe, Johnston and Schonk did meet and were deeply affected by what they learned from the couple.

The result is “Piping Mad,” a short documentary that has been seen by thousands of people in the last week or two since it was posted online.

It’s on Facebook, and friends are sending the link to thousands of other friends. It’s on You Tube. And it’s also popped up on Web sites for everything from fishing to surfing to boating.

It is, as they say, going “viral.”

It’s getting the public’s attention, and the 20-minute documentary is about to be followed by a feature-length documentary on the efforts of environmental groups to hijack public access to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

The subtitle for “Piping Mad” is “Fair People at the Mercy of a Government Gone Fowl.”

It is described by its creators as “a short documentary covering the emotional and economic woes of the residents of Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina due to beach closures and excessive measures taken by the National Park Service and environmental groups.”

It will be followed later this fall by the feature-length documentary that is currently titled, “Weathering the Storm.”

Though “Piping Mad” seemed to burst onto the scene in the debate about beach access, such a project has been talked about for several years as advocates for reasonable beach access tried to get national attention for the plight of Hatteras and Ocracoke islanders whose lifestyles and livelihoods are being threatened by environmental groups.

What finally made it happen in a matter of months is that Mosher and McCabe introduced their friends Schonk and Johnston to each other. And it all happened at just the right time.

Kevin and Kim are transplants to Hatteras Island.  He was lured here by surfing and fishing, and she came down for a vacation during her college years.  She met Kevin at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in 1985, and a year after her 1986 graduation from Virginia Commonwealth University, she moved here.  

Both love the island – its history, its culture, its lifestyle, and the recreational opportunities, such as fishing and surfing.

Mosher is an established and popular artist.

And that is how she met Johnston, who saw her work displayed in a Buxton restaurant.  The two started exchanging e-mails. They struck up a friendship based on their passion to keep seashore beaches open and accessible.

Mosher thought Johnston could help with getting national publicity for the plight of the islanders and presented the idea to the Outer Banks Preservation Association about three years ago.  However, OBPA, strapped with legal bills, had no money to spend on public relations or documentaries.

Kim Mosher never gave up on the idea – and then she met Rob Schonk, who did have some money to help the cause.

Schonk and his wife met Kim and Kevin at a dinner party arranged by Carla Reynolds, the Realtor who sold them their retirement home in Avon.

As it happened, Schonk had some money he could use for the cause of his choice.

His father, who was a banker in the Norfolk area died in January, and Schonk and his two brothers and a sister were to make distributions from the Bob and Jean Schonk Charitable Trust.  The parents had pre-designated certain sums of money for the Children’s Hospital of the Kings’ Daughters in Norfolk and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.  The rest was to be split among the four siblings and used to benefit organizations of their choice.

Over dinner, a proposal was made to Schonk that perhaps he would like to fund a documentary to spread the word about the situation on the seashore.

“I thought about it for a few minutes, and then I said ‘Yes,’” Schonk says.

“What better thing could I do than to give this money to something that meant so much to my parents?” Shonk asks.

So he donated $12,000 to the non-profit OBPA specifically to fund the short documentary.

Everything happened quickly after that, and Johnston came down with a colleague, Kevin Hicks, a managing member of Chinimble Lore, a film development and production company, also in New York. With Johnston as executive producer and Hicks as director and lead writer, the two finished the 20-minute documentary earlier in the summer.

“Piping Mad” was a tool that Johnston planned to use as background information to get editors in the national media interested in following up and bringing a national spotlight to the situation on the seashore.

The short film with its interviews with islanders who talked about how their lives had been changed by the lawsuit by the environmental groups was so compelling that Johnston and Hicks didn’t think they could leave it there.

Johnston called it “rich, robust, and powerful”

Here is what Hicks said:

“When I was first contacted about this project I never dreamed the depth of the issue here on the Outer Banks. As an outsider looking in you stop and say ‘Hey, that can’t be happening here, this is America.’ But the inequities and contradictions that are stifling the people here are beyond description. Clearly the people of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore area are caught in the vacuum between manufactured data and a large legal financial machine, both of which are strangling families that go back 300 years here.”

Johnston and Hicks came back to OBPA and Schonk with a proposal for a feature length documentary.

And, again, Rob Schonk stepped up.  He invested the additional money necessary to make the feature-length documentary.

His investment was made as another donation to OBPA. He declines to say exactly how much that is, but he says he risked his own funds and will not profit if the film eventually makes money, which Johnston thinks is certainly possible.  Schonk will be repaid and any other proceeds will go to OBPA.  If the documentary does not bring in any money, Schonk will lose his investment.

Johnston and Hicks returned in late August with a full crew and filmed for five days on the seashore.

Johnston will not say exactly what the documentary has cost, but does says that it would have taken  $80,000 to $100,000 to produce at full cost and that “we are doing this for peanuts.”

He says the full-length documentary will be completed in about 45 days.  He has already started marketing it to various media outlets and says that will eventually be shown at film festivals.

“At the end of the day,” he says, “our goal is to get word of this out.”

He says that he, like a lot of other people, never thought the situation would go so far as it has under the consent decree.

“This film isn’t about off-road vehicle access, which I think many assumed it was when we began,” says Johnston. “ORV access is only a symptom of a much larger issue and our goal with this project was to examine the entire issue of environmentalism versus human best interest, as well as the gray area in between. Here on the Banks the spectrum is very lopsided. When you consider the money involved in the forced litigation in these cases you begin to obtain a greater sense of what’s driving these issues not only here but around the country.”

Some will consider the documentary one-sided, Johnston adds, and for that, he has no apology.

“We wanted to tell the story from the point of view of the islanders,” he says.

And he adds the islanders filmed for the documentary were not coached and did not get questions in advance.

“They just spoke from their hearts,” he says.

To Johnston and Schonk and Kim Mosher and Kevin McCabe and the many others who supported the work on the documentary, the film is about environmentalism run amok and the cost to islanders and island visitors.

The environmental agenda, Johnston says, is a “disease” and the symptoms of the disease are the large and excessive beach closures and the “junk science” that is used to justify them, the delays that environmental groups have caused with the Bonner Bridge replacement, and the damage all of this has caused to the lives and livelihoods of islanders.

“One of our goals is to fully put into perspective the junk science being used by all opposing parties to enforce their actions and mandates. We will take their information and weigh it with experts from around the country in the same fields, and let the court of public opinion formulate their conclusions as to the validity of what's happened here.”

Schonk adds that as a federal manager for 30 years, much of it in environmental engineering, he “knows how the game is played.”

“The President doesn’t even have a 1,000-meter buffer around him,” he says.

“People are part of the environment and we have rights too,” Schonk says.

And one final thought from Rob Schonk.

He says this documentary isn’t about him and the money he has donated to make it possible.  

Instead he says it is “the story of the people of Hatteras Island” and a vehicle to honor his parents “who taught me to love this place.”

Click here to see the short documentary, “Piping Mad.”


Scott Lambright

Thank you all and God Bless

Scott Lambright (Email ) - 13-09-’10 17:32
Rebecca Doughty

Thank you, thank you. God Bless! Even if it doesn’t change a thing, at least it’s been said.

Rebecca Doughty - 13-09-’10 18:07

“The President doesn’t even have a 1,000-meter buffer around him,”

Too funny and too true!!!!

Rebecca - 13-09-’10 18:08
Jeanie Wright

A very well-done documentary. Made the tears flow. Hatteras is the paradise we escape to. For people living there? it’s their livelihood.

Jeanie Wright (Email ) - 13-09-’10 18:14
Michael lPorter

I have forwarded this to Bill O’Reilly’s Facebook page in hopes he may pick it up. I encourage everyone to send this video to everyone they may know in media or belong to their facebook/myspace/twitter page. Kevin has given us a valuable gift to share with the world

Michael lPorter (Email ) - 13-09-’10 18:38
Bob Ruhle

For the first time I feel real hope! Was down last weekend and couldn’t help but think this could have been my last time. Thank you.

Bob Ruhle (Email ) - 13-09-’10 20:16
Bruce Bodner

Rob Schonk personifies a real “stand up guy”. A story like this is long overdue. Another chapter in taking back America.

Bruce Bodner (Email ) - 13-09-’10 21:27
Salvo Jimmy

I put it on Hannity’s facebook since he is the one that has done a couple of bits on the fish that cut off water to farmers in Calif.

Salvo Jimmy (Email ) - 14-09-’10 08:46
Salvo Jimmy

Also put it on Beck’s facebook

Salvo Jimmy (Email ) - 14-09-’10 08:51
larry wallace

I worked at the bank with Bob schonk for 35 years and never knew he was a Hatteraser…its really heartwarming to learn that Rob has stepped up to take on this important issue for the islanders.

larry wallace (Email ) - 14-09-’10 09:46
terri cullen

Wonderful that the truth is out. The next video should be how the Audubon Society (who is in this fight) is selling land to a developer in Currituck that was given to them to preserve! They are not the “pure” non-profit many think they are! I’d donate to that.

terri cullen - 14-09-’10 10:02
Bill P

Sent this story to Anderson Cooper 360

Bill P - 14-09-’10 13:21
Mike R

Thank you for this wonderful video!!
God Bless everyone involved.

Mike R (Email ) - 14-09-’10 15:45
Bob Ruhle

I said it before and I’ll say it again. I do not trust the Park Service. Bunch of cold (folks) to trap and shoot innocent animals to save a couple of birds who are NOT endangered. They are a disgrace to the human race. What exactly is in it for them?

Bob Ruhle (Email ) - 14-09-’10 20:05

First, to Rob; my condolences on the passing of your Mother and, most recently, your Father. The benevolence and generosity that you displayed clearly reflects the love and respect you have for your parents. Thank You, and Godspeed.

I, and MANY others, have been deeply touched by the genuine, heartfelt truths spoken in this documentary. There will be those who will nit- or cherry-pick, but the body of work is incredible.

As this documentary is shared, I find that most folks outside of Eastern North Carolina were surprised by the depth and breadth of the environmentalist’s impacts on Island. So many more have steeled their resolve and joined us in these past weeks. The movement is gaining strength, now we all must continue to work to sustain it.

Thank You.

hatterasnc - 15-09-’10 12:00

Thanks and Blessings to all those involved in the making of this wonderful and powerful documentary! You are not only champions to this cause, you are truly heroes to many of us. Well done.

The collective stroke of genius that brought the video to life came about in what can only be described as a "Perfect Storm" of timing, passion, intellect and philanthropy.

That in and of itself is amazing to behold, and the legs, nay WINGS that the video has grown since its release is even more spectacular still. To say that it’s off to a good start would be a vast understatement, and I have a feeling that there is a whole lot of mileage left in this thing….

Thank you Rob, for bringing new life and vibrance back to this battle through the video. May we all find the strength in this groundswell of positive energy to see this through to the bitter end and eventual victory!

Your family’s legacy of love for the area and its people deserves no less.

dapster - 15-09-’10 15:01
Jim Boyd

Here’s a story of a Georgia community’s fight against environmental interests from TODAY’S headlines that got picked up by national media. FYI.

Jim Boyd (Email ) - 15-09-’10 21:39
Beth Saylor

What a wonderful film clip! It’s beyond comprehension that groups of people who do not live on the island can worry about the birds and turtles, to the detriment of those wonderful hardy people who have survived the hurricanes and problems of the past several hundred years! Hopefully, this film will be seen by many!!!

Beth Saylor (Email ) - 16-09-’10 07:41
JT Tate

This documentary angered me and made me cry. I totally understand why the islanders get fed up with outsiders coming in and trying to tell them how they should live or run their affairs. I am from Ohio; but I feel like Hatteras is my home away from home! I am totally against what the environmentalists are trying to do to the fine people who are residents of the island; as well as against the attrocities being committed to other innocent wildlife in the name of “bird preservation”! You may consider me to be just another “outsider”, and may want to dismiss my opinion; but I am in support of the great people of Hatteras, and will do whatever I can to help get the word out and to help you fight this important battle. I’ve been visiting the island for forty years, and I KNOW the islanders do not abuse their beaches! They have a tremendous love and respect for the land on which they live. My prayers and heartfelt support are with you, the islanders, on this issue. This documentary is well stated!
JT Tate

JT Tate (Email ) - 16-09-’10 12:30
Steven Meyers

I was very touched by the video. I myself and famely and friends try to come down atleast once a year to fish the point. I would hate think of not being able to fish the point. I know what we spend when we are there i would hate to think how much income is loss each year to to the closing it is a shame and shame on the system that is suppose to be there for us.

Steven Meyers (Email ) - 17-09-’10 14:15
Roger S.

Since learning of the issues I have been supporting the groups and letter writing campaigns to the most possible extent for me personally. And I will continue in my support until it’s over. I find the whole situation deeply disturbing, and should the full doucmentary be sold on DVD I will purchase mulitple copies and distribute.
One beef: Why was this documentary not given to Cantore when he was on the island for Earl? Or was it? Instead of publicly making fun of him was this not a big fat chance to at least ask for a contact or explain the plight to someone with obvious media connection?
Can this be salvaged?
Please don’t take offense at my comment, I wouldn’t point it out if I didn’t care.

Roger S. - 17-09-’10 21:26
Salvo Jimmy

And this will increase the spin rate out of the environs


Salvo Jimmy (Email ) - 17-09-’10 22:58
Becky B

I found this video last night. Last year was the first year that I vacationed in SC vs. Hatteras because of that bridge situation that I am learning about every day. I miss the OBX. Even though I live in NC, the OBX is my heaven here on earth. Our new govenor needs to know about this and he needs to help the people in Hatteras. I agree with one of the others, that Audobon group needs to be exposed. I think its terrible what they are doing also.

Becky B - 11-01-’13 10:15

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