Atlantic and Gulf Coasts Recreation Area Survey
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Of the 3,700 miles of general shoreline constituting the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, there are 240 miles, or 6-1/2 percent, in Federal and State ownership for public recreation purposes.

Within these 240 miles there are 39 areas: 2 national parks, 1 national seashore recreation area and 36 State seashores. There are in addition 4 national wildlife refuges with ocean beaches which are not primarily utilized for public recreation.

Over 50 percent of the 240 miles is contained in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation Area and in Acadia and Everglades National Parks. However, neither Acadia nor Everglades National Park contains much beach frontage suitable for seashore recreation activities.

The 1955 seashore survey identified and reported upon 126 undeveloped areas. Of this total 72 were eliminated from further consideration because they lacked recreation potentialities or were unavailable for public use.

The remaining 54 areas were believed to be of interest to local, State or Federal agencies as possible public seashores. These 54 areas, which contain about 640 miles of beach and comprise 17 percent of the shoreline of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, constitute the major remaining opportunities for conservation of sea shore resources.

Of the 54 areas most suitable for public seashore recreation, 6 of the areas and one-third of the total beach mileage are in one State - Texas; two of the 54 areas were considered to be superior to all the others. (Twenty-eight areas were judged to be of exceptional importance and the respective States are negotiating for 8 of these.)

There was a striking parallel between this recreation survey and the two-year inventory of the wetlands of the United States, conducted by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Of the 54 most desirable areas listed by this survey, all but 6 had been rated in the wetlands inventory as possessing high or moderate value of birdlife.

Within the most densely populated section of the seashore, between Massachusetts and Delaware, there are 18 undeveloped areas containing 118 miles of coastline. The extreme importance of acquiring additional seashore in this region is vividly emphasized by the conclusion of the recent Yale University City Planning Survey: that the entire 600-mile area of the eastern seaboard from Portland, Maine, to Norfolk, Virginia, can be designated as a single, linear city containing one-fifth of the Nation's population.

In 1935 a survey of undeveloped seashore areas conducted by the National Park Service recommended that 12 major undeveloped areas with a total shoreline of 439 miles be preserved as national seashores. Only one of the 12 areas--Cape Hatteras--was set aside for this purpose, and 10 of the 11 areas which were recommended for preservation in 1935 are now in various stages of private or commercial development.

The movement to buy up seashore property for commercial and private use has had its greatest impetus since 1945, and an economic boom in seashore property is a phenomenon of the entire coast. Extensive and costly developments now line mile after mile of seashore which before World War II was uninhabited.

One of the areas recommended as a national seashore in 1935 was 30 miles long and could have been purchased for $260,000. Less than 9 miles remain undeveloped today, and the cost of purchasing the land now would be more then $l,000,000--an increase in value of 1200 percent in 20 years.

A second area selected in 1935 was--and is--accessible only by boat. Despite this handicap, the island has been subdivided and a majority of the 5,000 lots sold--with no access in sight. The price has skyrocketed from $26 an acre to $65 a front foot.

Every factor exerting influence on the pattern of use of the seashore will tend to make conditions far worse in coming years. Outdoor recreation is fast becoming a major industry. More and more persons and interests will be competing for less and less available beach.

The Census Bureau estimates that in 20 years--by 1975--the population of the United States will jump to over 200,000,000. The fact that the population will nearly double in 50 years does not mean the number of visitors to the beach will merely double.

From 1934 to 1954 the number of visitors to the national parks increased from 6,000,000 to 48,000,000. In 40 years, the ratio of visitors to the national parks to total population has increased from 1 in 300 to 1 in 3. Within the 20-year period, 1934-1954, visitation to New York State Park beaches has increased from 5,000,000 persons to 61,000,000.

Considering these facts, it is recommended:

That at least 15 percent of the general shoreline of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts be acquired for public recreation purposes. If public agencies acquire half of the suitable undeveloped seashore land remaining, they would then have, including their existing areas, the recommended 15 percent.

That highest priority be given to the acquisition of the following 16 areas:

Great Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Cumberland Island, Georgia
Fire Island, New York
Shinnecock Inlet, New York
Padre Island, Texas
Smith Island, North Carolina
Bogue Banks, North Carolina
St. Joseph Spit, Florida
Mosquito Lagoon, Florida
Parramore Island, Virginia
Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Marco Beach, Florida
Debidue Island, South Carolina
Popham-St. John, Maine
Crescent Area, Maine
Brazos Island, Texas

That prompt action be taken to acquire available beach sites before the best of the remaining areas are acquired for private or commercial development. The attention of all persons and organizations in a position to give aid should be solicited.

That the acquisition of areas be related as directly as possible to the distribution of tributary population, excepting those areas that are of such outstanding quality that the need for their preservation justifies acquisition regardless of location.

That ample quantities of hinterlands of marsh and swamp, which provide a valuable habitat for a large and interesting variety of bird and animal life, be acquired in connection with acquisition of beach property.

That biotic communities of great scientific interest found along the seashore be acquired and preserved regardless of the desirability of the adjoining beach, and that consideration be given to biotic communities at present in a modified condition but which might return to a more natural condition if permitted to remain undisturbed.

That more detailed studies be made of selected coastal areas of unusual importance, giving consideration to proper boundaries and long range planning for best utilization of recreation values.

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Last Updated: 25-Jun-2007