When the sea is rising, you’d better have a plan.
At Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the Virginia coast, rising sea levels and severe weather are wreaking havoc with visitor parking and threaten to completely reshape the landscape by the end of the century.
Photo: Emma Kerr/USFWS
“I don’t know how many more storms we can take,” says Refuge Manager Lou Hinds. The visitor parking lot adjacent to the recreational beach has been washed out nearly a dozen times in the past several years, forcing the Refuge and the National Park Service to spend about $500,000 a year in taxpayer dollars to repair the damage.
In 1964, the U.S. Geological Survey planted a marker near the Chincoteague public beach some 115 paces to the water’s edge. Today, that same marker is in the surf.
For communities like Chincoteague that depend on seacoast tourism for economic survival, the fate of the beach is of great concern. More than 1.4 million visitors come to Chincoteague each year, along the way staying in area hotels, eating at area restaurants, and shopping at area stores.
Hinds and his staff are developing a comprehensive conservation plan – or CCP – that once final will serve as a roadmap for managing Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge for the next 15 years.
So far, planners have identified four possible management scenarios (watch a video describing them). Here are five important details they all share:
- Each alternative includes a recreational beach.
- Each includes some amount of parking near the beach.
- A shuttle system or other means of transportation are being considered to augment onsite parking for beachgoers.
- The famous Chincoteague wild pony herd will stay on the Refuge.
- Each alternative provides for other recreational opportunities such as hunting or off-road vehicle use.
The CCP is in its early draft stages, and Hinds welcomes input from the community and others in its development. “Our goal is to engage the community and come up with a plan that is both responsible and sustainable for the future.” he says.
While details of the plan are still being worked out, one thing is nearly certain: without thoughtful management of the Refuge, the wild ponies, the fragile coastal habitats, and the economic engine of a community will all be at the mercy of the rising sea.
(For more on the Chincoteague CCP, visit http://www.fws.gov/northeast/planning/Chincoteague/ccphome.html)