Assateague Island
Administrative History
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Chapter X:

The 1976 amendatory legislation directed that a new comprehensive plan for the protection, management, and use of the seashore" be prepared and submitted to Congress by October 21, 1978. The plan was to include

(1) measures for the full protection and management of the natural resources and natural ecosystems of the seashore;

(2) present and proposed uses of the seashore and the lands and waters adjacent or related thereto, the uses of which would reasonably be expected to influence the administration, use, and environmental quality of the seashore;

(3) plans for the development of facilities necessary and appropriate for visitor use and enjoyment of the seashore, with identification of resource and user carrying capacities, along with the anticipated costs for all proposed development;

(4) plans for visitor transportation systems integrated and coordinated with lands and facilities adjacent to, but outside of the seashore; and

(5) plans for fostering the development of cooperative agreements and land and resource use patterns outside the seashore which would be compatible with the protection and management of the seashore. [1]

The Park Service was aware from the start that the two—year deadline could not be met without greater funding and manpower than were available. The comprehensive plan in NPS nomenclature was a general management plan, whose production required extensive public involvement, detailed analysis of alternatives, selection of an alternative, and a published draft before the final document could be issued. The Service's planning arm, the Denver Service Center (DSC), was unable to initiate the lengthy process until mid—1977. [2]

Research conducted under contract with the City University of New York that summer and fall quantified how polled visitors participated in various recreational activities at Assateague and used nearby attractions and facilities. In the fall about 200 questionnaires provided in workbooks distributed at three "pre—planning" public meetings were returned by participants. In early 1978 the planners met with local government bodies and interest groups such as the Committee to Preserve Assateague and the Assateague Mobile Sportfishermen's Association. In June they released a document titled "Assessment of Alternatives, Draft General Management Plan, Assateague Island National Seashore, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Assateague State Park." It was grist for discussion at further public meetings in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Riverdale and Snow Hill, Maryland, and Chincoteague, Virginia, where more comment forms were distributed. [3]

The NPS Washington Office reviewed the Assessment of Alternatives in September and provided planning direction to the Mid—Atlantic Regional Office. No new facilities requiring shoreline protection measures should be proposed; essential facilities should be sited and designed to be minimally susceptible to loss and should be regarded as expendable. The need to maintain the fresh water impoundments of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in areas subject to flooding and wave action should be evaluated, and "consideration [should] be given to gradual phasing out of impoundments in high hazard areas. Rather than developing more campgrounds, the Service should consider providing technical assistance to those willing to offer camping nearby. The feasibility of mass transit from mainland staging areas to the beaches should be thoroughly studied. The plan should provide a framework for cooperative planning with the Corps of Engineers, the state of Maryland, and Ocean City to mitigate "the culturally accelerated recession of the north end of the island," Hope was expressed that a draft plan could be transmitted to Congress by the October 21 due date. [4]

A draft "preferred planning alternative" was readied for review by Assistant Secretary Robert L. Herbst on October 19. Herbst was unwilling to forward it to Congress until provisions were added promising a scientific evaluation of off—road vehicle impact and rejecting a proposed water fowl museum in the refuge (a development strongly opposed by the Committee to Preserve Assateague). These items could be readily incorporated, but Herbst's additional request for a full exploration of unified seashore—refuge management before transmittal took longer. [5]

The planning effort itself exemplified the difficulties of joint management. Attempts to proceed in cooperation with the Fish and Wildlife Service broke down after the refuge manager and his superiors displayed reluctance to give NPS planners free rein in their territory. The exploration of unified management prescribed by Herbst exposed irreconcilable differences and accomplished little more than to delay the planning process (Chapter V).

The "Preferred Planning Alternative for Assateague Island Comprehensive Plan" was finally issued in August 1979 and transmitted to Congress on September 5. Although bearing the imprints of the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Maryland Park Service, it diplomatically noted the abandonment of joint planning:

In September [1978] following review and analysis of public comments, the regional directors of the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service and the director of the Maryland Park Service agreed that each agency would be responsible for selecting the preferred plan for its respective area and that future cooperative planning probably would not be required after October, 1978.... [6]

The preferred alternative generally followed the second of the three alternatives originally presented, taking a middle course between the development—oriented first alternative and the near—wilderness third alternative. In the NPS lands most existing recreational uses would be maintained with minor expansion of some facilities. Overwash would not be prevented except in areas zoned for recreational development, where short—term protection of existing facilities could be achieved by artificial dune maintenance. More bay access would be provided along the causeway west of the day—use area at North Beach. The Park Service would not support local plans for sewage effluent pipelines crossing Assateague, and it would not assume responsibility for correcting the westward migration of the north end of the island. Concern was expressed about Worcester County development plans along Maryland Route 611 that "could result in land uses inconsistent with the long—term maintenance of an aesthetically pleasing parkway—type access road to Assateague Island"; cooperation with local and state governments was pledged to resist this threat. [7]

Plans for Assateague State Park included an additional 50 campground sites and a road to a 50—car parking area at its northern boundary for hikers to the north end of the island. Among the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge proposals were a "primitive area" coinciding with the previously proposed wilderness (Chapter IX) and preservation work on the Assateague Beach Coast Guard Station (under NPS ownership). In response to intervention by Representative Paul S. Trible in behalf of the waterfowl museum proponents, the document called for deferral of the controversial refuge museum rather than the outright abandonment Assistant Secretary Herbst had requested.

Worcester County expressed opposition to several aspects of the Park Service section of the document in a letter to Director William J. Whalen. The commissioners were displeased that there would be no greater artificial maintenance of the dune line, that the Service would not stabilize the north end of the island, and that it would oppose pipelines: "This position is not consistent with the efforts of Worcester County to provide needed water treatment facilities on the mainland which may require an outfall line across Assateague Island." They objected to proposed restrictions against bayside access for oversand vehicles (Chapter VIII). "Finally the Commissioners can appreciate your concern for the desirability of a scenic approach to the park along Maryland Route 611 but wish to advise you that land use decisions on the mainland are the responsibility of the County," the response brusquely concluded. [8]

With minor modifications, the NPS section of the preferred alternative document was incorporated in the Service's Draft General Management Plan (DGMP) for its portion of Assateague dated September 1981. Preparation of the DGMP followed congressional review of the preferred alternative and a "finding of no significant impact" obviating an environmental impact statement. Among the few substantive changes was the provision for a "cabled" access to the bay for off—road vehicles at Fox Hill Levels. "In general the DGMP represents a 'middle of the road' approach to development of Assateague Island," Superintendent Michael V. Finley wrote Director Russell E. Dickenson in January 1982. "The propose development envisions modest facilities of a basic nature. Development recommendations were based on an assessment of current needs and projected trends while being mindful that total visitor needs cannot and should not be accommodated." [9]

The "middle of the road" position, needless to say, did not entirely satisfy the most vocal advocates of maximum recreational use on the one hand and minimum development on the other. The Assateague Mobile Sportfishermen's Association still argued for the rejected maximum development alternative and was particularly unhappy about the DGMP's proposed ban on trailers in the "bullpen" enclosure below North Beach (Chapter VIII). The Committee to Preserve Assateague opposed the bayside ORV access at Fox Hill Levels, the parking area for the north end of the island, campground improvements for anything other than tents, and expenditures for preservation and interpretation of the Coast Guard station. Senator Paul S. Sarbanes and Representatives Barbara A. Mikulski and Marjorie S. Holt of Maryland endorsed the Committee's comments. "In my opinion," Mrs. Holt wrote Superintendent Finley, "the members of the Committee to Preserve Assateague are more knowledgeable and sensitive in this area than the planning team in Denver." [10]

The final General Management Plan, issued in June 1982, tilted slightly toward the Committee's position. It rejected more parking at Toms Cove, which had been proposed in the DGMP, and it responded to the Committee's request for a commitment that wilderness designation would be considered when retained private rights had expired (Chapter IX). Instead of a new 20—car parking area at North Beach two existing areas would be expanded to achieve the same capacity. The ORV enclosure was now explicitly defined as an "overnight parking area" to confirm the new policy against trailer camping there (although there were indications of delay in implementing the trailer ban). Most of the changes involved language rather than substance: statements that had caused offense were toned down or eliminated.

Whatever disagreements might have remained, Assateague Island National Seashore finally had a plan for future development and use broadly acceptable to most interests. The National Park Service could now carry out its mission of protecting and providing for the enjoyment of Assateague with confidence of widespread public and political support for its actions. The accomplishment was one worth celebrating.

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Last Updated: 27-Oct-2003