ASSATEAGUE ISLAND – Officials with Assateague Island National Seashore are seeking the public’s input on a strategy to relocate oceanfront campsites on the island as they are lost or damaged.
In an open house last Thursday, park employees and officials presented community members with displays and timelines that showed the impact of recent storms and outlined options to move sites within the Oceanside Campground to other locations on the island.
Liz Clarke, contractor with the park, said the campground currently has 41 drive-in sites and more than 60 walk-in sites, many of which are consistently covered in sand and water after storms.
“It’s relentless,” she said.
Within recent years, pictures have documented the effects these storms have had on the island’s coastline and oceanfront campsites. For example, Winter Storm Jonas in January 2016 left many sites flooded and, in more recent weeks, a minor storm left nearly a foot of sand in its wake.
The park estimates that the shoreline will move westward between 1.6 and 6.5 feet per year at a portion of beach directly adjacent to the Oceanside Campground.
Debbie Darden, park superintendent, said the island’s continual westward movement means having to relocate campsites that are constantly damaged by water and sand.
The goal of the open house, she said, was to solicit comments from the community regarding strategies to move the sites.
“We’re asking for issues and concerns they are having about moving the campgrounds west,” she said.
The park plans to move campsites, as they are lost or destroyed, to either a portion of land directly west of the current Oceanside Campground or to the Bayside Campground.
Darden said this will allow the sites to remain on the barrier island while giving visitors the beach access they desire.
“We want to keep the campgrounds as close to the ocean as possible because that’s what the visitors want,” she said.
Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips said she attended the open house to see the park’s plan for moving the sites.
She explained that the shifting sand dunes are a natural process, but praised the park for taking proactive measures to preserve the campsites.
“It’s a natural barrier island, it migrates,” she said. “But because the island has infrastructure to accommodate us humans, we start to run into issues.”
Phillips noted that in recent years the park has relocated a parking lot and utilized movable buildings, but said attention should be redirected to oceanfront sites.
“Now it’s time to start thinking about the campgrounds,” she said.
The National Park Service is preparing a draft environmental assessment to address any environmental consequences of the proposed relocation sites.
This draft, and a list of proposed and preferred alternatives, will be presented to the public in a second open house later this year before being finalized next winter.
Darden said community members are given until the end of this month to submit comments and concerns regarding the project.
For more information, or to submit a comment, visit http://parkplanning.nps.gov/OceansideCamping.