This trip wasn’t the best one in our 10 (yes it’s actually 10) years of camping at the Cape. It wasn’t bad, necessarily, we just had some weather issues (cold, wind, rain).
The National Park Service is making “improvements.” I’m not entirely sure how I feel about them.
On the good side, the Lighthouse has a new tuxedo, a fresh coat of paint, as you can see by comparing my photos from 2004 with these new ones.
(2006, above; 2004, below)
Also, this year there was a dredge, and a backhoe, and a bulldozer. All working on renourishing the beach on the sound side. This isn’t so bad in and of itself. Storms and hurricanes have battered the dunes and beach on this barrier island, washing away an interpretive kiosk that used to stand in front of the Keeper’s House, as well as the sandbags that were stacked in place of the kiosk. Eventually, the Keeper’s House itself will be seriously threatened. Renourishment is needed to protect it.
(Dredge, March 2006)
(Beach renourishment project, March 2006)
However, the contractors working on this project are under deadline to get it done before the park officially opens for the season on the first of April. This means they worked all day and all night while we were there trying to enjoy the solitude and quiet of camping on an island. Our sunset toast included the usual amber glow on the lighthouse, but also the lovely golden light falling on the bulldozer, ahhh.
(Lighthouse, Keeper's House, Sunset, March 2006)
(Sunset on the bulldozer, March 2006)
Our nights were filled with the alternating roar and “beep, beep, beep” of the bulldozer going back and forth, back and forth, all night long, then all day long. Only on the first night (a Sunday) could we hear the hoot owl, the surf, the rustle of the wind in the maritime forest. The rest of the time, nothing but “beep, beep, beep” and “vroom” and “woosh.”
Then there was the hammering. And that is where my ambivalence comes in.
Over the years that we’ve been going to this island, the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, although a working lighthouse, has been closed to the public. Once, on our very first trip, the lock was broken on the door and we were strongly tempted to go up. Our honestly and guilt, however, won the debate and we didn’t go. Later that day the park ranger came and fixed the door. We have yet to go up.
Also, one of the reasons we go here in March (other than the fact that my Dad has always had Spring Break at this time) is that there are NO CROWDS. Sure, there are people, but only in small groups, and usually only during the daytime. Often, we have the island to ourselves when we camp over. You see, they turn off the water pumps in winter, and there are only chemical toilets out on the beach side anyway, so it’s not the most comfortable place for large amounts of people. And we like it that way.
But the National Park Service, I guess, has other information and ideas. There are builders there, making “improvements", adding new pavilions, new boardwalks, new flush restrooms with outdoor showers, new parking area for tour trucks that operate in the summer, and…a ticket booth and souvenier stand. I put improvements in quotes because these changes to me are designed for one thing and one thing only--to make it more comfortable for large numbers of people to visit the island. I’m not so sure that’s an improvement.
(2006 Park improvements, New pavilion, ticket booth, souvenier stand, bathrooms)
On the one hand, yes, it would be nice to be able to take a tour of the lighthouse, and flush toilets are certainly more comfortable than the shack with the wind blowing up your butt (ah but take a look at the view from the loo)…
(View from the loo, Women's side)
(View from the loo, Men's side)
I know it is selfish of me to want to enjoy the park without tons of other people around. It is our National Seashore after all, and I think the National Parks belong to the people (despite the Bush Administration’s attempts to privatize our national wild lands—don’t get me started on that).
But it’s not just about my selfish desires to enjoy these last wild island environments on my own. If I never return to Cape Lookout, I will still not want to see it become more accessible to large crowds.
The point is, these are the last pristine examples of barrier islands in this country. And even now they aren’t truly pristine. We walk along these beaches and see trash up and down, even when we see no people all day. There are old houses that were built here before this became a park, and which were grandfathered in as fishing cabins for their owners for while until the Park Service took ownership of them.
(One of the old homes on the island)
And there are trails for ATVs, roads for touring vehicles. The volunteer in the Keeper’s House told me that this park already gets over 500 people a day in the summer, as many as a thousand a day on holiday weekends. Those chemical toilets get a workout on those days, and become rather rank, she said. I don’t doubt it.
But think of how much worse it will be with even more people, despite the improved facilities. Maybe because of the improved facilities. Easier access, more comfortable facilities, and more tours of the lighthouse mean more people. More people mean more trash, more pollution, more trampling of the dunes, greater destruction of the habitat.
That bothers me.
I’m ambivalent, though. Will more people visit even if the newer facilities are not built? Maybe. Will it ever become the theme park with daily crowds of thousands that Cape Hatteras has become? Probably not because, unlike Hatteras, you cannot just drive up to Lookout.
I just hope and pray that those who do visit will take care of it, will appreciate it as one of our nation’s valuable resources, and will want to protect it—from disrespect, from politicians, from exploitation, from ourselves and our enthusiasm.
So we all can enjoy this beautiful place…for generations.
(Generations of enjoyment: Owen, Daddy, Grandpa, 2006)