Park rangers who protect rare piping plovers on the Outer Banks say the nesting season is over and the coast is clear for beach drivers to return to Cape Point, a barrier island elbow that juts into the Atlantic.
Its the most popular spot for surfers, anglers and families along the 65 shoreline miles of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
And it is the most popular nesting spot for the piping plover, a shorebird that receives special protection under court-ordered restrictions that have curtailed beach access this year for visitors in vehicles and on foot.
Cape Point is a very much-loved area of the park for fishermen, shell hunters and folks who just like to walk along a very wild shoreline, said Cyndy Holda, a National Park Service spokeswoman.
Rangers counted 22 piping plover nests along the national seashore this year, 11 of them at Cape Point. After waiting until 11 hatchlings at Cape Point had fledged, they announced Friday that off-road vehicles would be allowed on the east side of Cape Point once again.
The announcement opens the beach to vehicles starting 0.4 miles north of access ramp 43 at Buxton and continuing south about two miles to the east side of Cape Point. The Hatteras Island shoreline turns toward the west at that point, along a stretch of beach that remains closed to vehicles.
Also this week, rangers reported a total of 203 sea turtle nests so far this year on the Hatteras beaches, well above the previous record of 153 nests. The count is climbing as the nesting season continues, and the hatching season has begun, with eight nests hatched so far.
Up and down the coast of North Carolina has been a good year for sea turtles, Holda said.
Rangers say new nighttime driving restrictions with vehicles banned on the beaches between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. have made the Cape Hatteras National Seashore more inviting for turtles that clamber out of the surf after dark to lay their eggs.
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