By JOY CRIST
On Thursday, March 1, Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent David Hallac gave a presentation to community members at the Fessenden Center on visitation patterns in the past year.
And while it’s a well-known fact that 28% of statistics are made up, there were plenty of surprises and numbers that stood out in the overview of the 2017 season.
The meeting was lightly attended, likely due to the impending storm that rolled in with the arrival of the weekend, and which is currently creating a big salty lake in our yard even as I type this.
So for folks who could not attend in person, here’s a look at how the past year stacked up in multiple arenas of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and what these numbers could mean going forward.
There were a total of 3.12 million visits in 2017 at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS), the Fort Raleigh Historic Site, and the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
CHNS visitation was up 1% in 2017 over 2016, with roughly 2.5 million visitors.
There were 65,000 overnight camping stays in the four campgrounds within the National Seashore.
In 2017, 27.2 miles of the 29 miles of ORV routes were open during the summer months - (May through September.) This marks a steady trend that’s been climbing over the years:
• 2017: 27.2 miles open
• 2016: 25.6 miles open
• 2015: 22.2 miles open
• 2014: 19.8 miles open
• 2013: 17.7 miles open
39,181 permits were sold in 2017, which was the most ORV permits sold to date. This number has been climbing over the past few years too:
• 2017: 39,181 ORV permits sold
• 2016: 36,868 ORV permits sold
• 2015: 34,596 ORV permits sold
• 2014: 30,453 ORV permits sold
• 2013: 30,955 ORV permits sold
• 2012: 27,154 ORV permits sold
2017 was a warmer than normal year over a 30-year period, and had an average amount of rainfall. Maximum temperatures were an average of 2-3 degrees warmer throughout the year over 2016.
Budget and Fees
The National Park Service operated on a $14.6 million dollar budget for 2017. Here’s where those funds came from:
• $9.6M base funding
• $2.7M off-road vehicle permits
• $2.3M camping and lighthouse fees
• $250,000 in other donations and fees
Summary of 2015 – 2017 Projects
The presentation also highlighted projects conducted within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore since 2015. These projects and changes included:
• Modified wildlife protection buffers
• Built ORV Ramps 25, 32, 48, and 63
• 4-mile long Inside road in between ramps 44 and 49
• Raised Ramps 49, 44, and 4
• Constructed Cape Point Bypass Road
• Earlier morning beach openings (i.e., from 7 a.m. to 6 a.m.)
• Four weeks of additional ORV access in front of villages
• 3.5 miles of additional ORV routes - (29 during summer and 44.5 during fall, winter, and spring)
• 7-day permit extended to a 10-day permit
• Annual permit that is valid for 12 months from date of purchase
• Print at home permit system
Interesting Stats from all this Info
These numbers can get a little jumbled up when put together, to be sure. So here are some of the most notable stats to arise from the presentation.
• 2017 saw the highest visitation to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore since 2003. This number has been gradually rising since 2014.
• 2017 saw the highest visitation to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the month of November since 1998, with more than 140,000 visitors during the month. Though the exact cause of the uptick isn’t crystal clear, it’s likely due to great weather and really great fishing that was reported throughout the month.
• Conversely, ferry crossings continues to remain low with a little more than 300,000 passengers reported for 2017. This follows a trend that began in 2011, and which may be due to reduced crossings and a longer ride. To compare, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the annual passengers were well over 450,000, which marks a roughly 40% drop.
• To perhaps no one’s surprise, visitation took a hit during the week-long summertime power outage. As an example, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse parking lot reported more than 1,000 vehicles on July 25, 2017, and approximately 100 vehicles on August 1.
• 94% of ORV routes were open during the summer of 2017. (Good thing, too, since 2017 also saw the highest number of ORV permits sold to date.)
What do these numbers mean?
Clearly, there is an increase in visitation across the board, as well as more beach access, which is a nice combination.
It’s hard to identify the exact reasons for this uptick, but there are certainly a few contributing factors to consider.
For one thing, the warmer weather kept visitors around late into the fall, (hence the record breaking November visitation), and big stories like the appearance of “Shelly Island” drew in crowds as well – a fact that David Hallac pointed out at the presentation. “If you go to social media, you’ll see that some [new visitors] refer to Cape Point as Shelly Point now,” he said.
The notable exception to the upward trend is the number of folks taking the Hatteras / Ocracoke ferry, but it will be interesting to see if the summer arrival of the new passenger ferry changes these numbers in 2018.
All in all, though, the 2017 overview is brimming with good news, (which is certainly appreciated during this windy, flood-y weekend.)
Beach access was up, visitation was up, and these numbers climbed despite setbacks like the power outage and September’s series of hurricanes.
With more NPS projects in the works, (like the new South Beach parking lot), and the allure of the beach and our landmarks still strong, (like the lighthouse and the recently coined “Shelly Point”), there’s reason to hope that - though it’s early - 2018 will bring along good news as well.