Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt visits Outer Banks
Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt visited the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Wright Brothers National Memorial at the end of a four-day trip to see how federal facilities were maintaining access for the public and mitigating risks.
The secretary talked with federal employees at maintenance facilities in the refuge and the seashore.
Bernhardt started his journey at Shenandoah National Park and continued to Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a stop in Cherokee. On Wednesday, he visited Regulator Marine in Edenton accompanied by Congressman Greg Murphy.
At the Alligator River refuge, the visit started with a ride down Sandy Ridge Trail and a visit to the maintenance shop, where the refuge fire crew was working on equipment. The secretary drove two pieces of firefighting equipment. In the shop, Bernhardt talked with fire crew members. Project leader Rebekah Martin, who supervises managers of nine refuges in eastern North Carolina, accompanied Bernhardt.
David Hallac, superintendent of National Parks of Eastern North Carolina, met Bernhardt at Ramp 2 for a beach ride. Along the way, Bernhardt was able to talk with two anglers. The beach ride ended at Ramp 4.
The tour crossed NC 12 to the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, where Bernhardt met with Russ King, the lessee for the fishing center. The secretary also talked with some charter boat owners.
The tour brought Bernhardt to the Bodie Island Light Station, where he walked along the boardwalk beside the lighthouse talking with Hallac.
Bernhardt then met with representatives of television, print and online media.
After the press meeting, he visited with federal employees at the Bodie Island maintenance compound. The tour ended at Wright Brothers National Memorial and a walk up Big Kill Devil Hill. On the walk, interpretive ranger Ashley Dickerson talked with Bernhardt about the Wright Brothers.
Bernhardt visited the Outer Banks in 2016 when his family vacationed on Hatteras Island.
During the press gathering, Bernhardt reported that park and refuge managers were able to look at each structure and unit to determine what each park or refuge could keep open and protect the health of visitors and workers. He said the Interior Department was fortunate to keep most refuges and Bureau of Land Management locations open during the pandemic.
Bernhardt said managers would reverse the closure procedure to reopen.
Hallac responded that park facilities would open in phases, for example, restrooms and then campgrounds. He is consulting with health experts regarding lighthouse climbing.
Asked about offshore drilling, Bernhardt said a pause on leases was still on hold. He also said that in the past, leasing moved forward with support from local and state leaders.
Hallac reported that four lifeguard stands will be operating this season.
Asked about climate change, Bernhardt said the “Department of Interior recognizes climate is changing.” He said it’s a factor in decisions.
David Bernhardt serves as the 53rd Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 11, 2019 and took office on the same day.
“As Secretary of the Interior, Bernhardt leads an agency with more than 70,000 employees who are stewards for 20 percent of the nation’s lands, including national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and other public lands. The department oversees the responsible development of conventional and renewable energy supplies on public lands and waters, is the largest supplier and manager of water in the 17 Western states, and upholds trust responsibilities to the 573 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives,” states the department in a media release.
From 2001 to 2009, he held several positions within the Department of the Interior, including serving as solicitor. Prior to that, he served then-Secretary Norton as a deputy solicitor, deputy chief of staff and counselor to the secretary, and as director of Congressional and Legislative affairs and counselor to the secretary.
He is a native of Rifle, Colorado.
Bernhardt tweeted “Thank you to the employees at National Parks of Eastern North Carolina for your work to keep our beautiful parks accessible during this challenging time.”
The visit by Bernhardt may be the first official visit by a serving Secretary of the Interior.
At the dedication ceremony for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Assistant Secretary of the Interior Roger C. Ernest came on behalf of the then Secretary of the Interior Fred A. Seaton, who could not attend.
Ernest presided over what was known as “the mixing of the waters” from Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park and waters from the Atlantic Ocean during the dedication ceremony. The ceremony, conducted at the Coquina Bathhouse on Bodie Island, was on April 24, 1958. Conrad Wirth, then director of the National Park Service, was also present.