Assateague Off-Road Zone to be Studied

ASSATEAGUE- In an attempt to maintain a precipitous balance between public use and the fragile ecosystems on the barrier island, Assateague Island National Seashore officials this week announced they are proposing a study of the over-sand vehicle (OSV) zone.

Assateague Island National Seashore Superintendent Scott Bentley announced on Tuesday park officials are taking public comments on a proposed study to assess visitor attitudes, experiences and expectations associated with the management and use of over-sand vehicles in the designated zone in the park. As visitor numbers continue to increase, and the associated number of users of the OSV zone in kind, park managers have been increasingly challenged to find the appropriate balance between protecting park resources and providing high quality recreational opportunities.

During busy summer months, the OSV zone, which is limited to 145 vehicles, is routinely full and those who want to access the area often have long wait times to do so. In many cases, access is denied because the OSV zone is already full. As a result, the pressure to allow more access to the island for over-sand vehicles has steadily increased.

At the same time, the number and types of sensitive natural resources potentially threatened by increased OSV use has also expanded. Of particular concern are populations of two threatened species- sea beach amaranth and piping plover- which use beach habitats within the current OSV zone, creating conflicts between OSV use and protection of the proposed Assateague wilderness.

To address the challenges and develop appropriate management strategies, park officials have a pressing need for better information about current OSV use and the expectations of the OSV users. To that end, National Seashore officials are proposing a study to develop information about contemporary OSV use at Assateague and the nature and expectations of the visitors that utilize the over-sand-vehicle zone.

The results of the study are expected to assist park officials in the upcoming General Management Plan revision process by providing currently unavailable information for decision-making regarding the future of the OSV zone on Assateague. The three primary objectives for the study include developing baseline data on the current users of the OSV zone including frequency, and patterns of use, along with socio-economic and demographic characteristics.

The study also hopes to identify potential indicators and standards of quality for maintaining the desired visitor experience in the OSV zone, and determine visitor attitudes toward existing and proposed OSV and resource management protection policies.