Cape Hatteras National Seashore was authorized by Congress on August 17, 1937, and officially established on January 12, 1953.
In 1957 eleven miles of what was to become NC Highway 12 through the Seashore Park on Ocracoke Island was paved. The last three miles (at the north end of the island) was a single lane of WWII metal landing mats (with “pullovers” every half mile for passing oncoming vehicles). For many of those miles the highway traversed barren tidal flats, and was exposed to overwash from the ocean during storms.
To help protect the road, the National Park Service and the State of North Carolina constructed a continuous row of man-made dunes between the new highway and the Atlantic Ocean. Workers erected “sand fences” to catch the blowing sand. Sea oats and other grasses were planted to stabilize the new dunes. For many years, horses, cattle, sheep, and goats had been permitted to roam throughout the island. Apparently, no one anticipated the problems Ocracoke’s free-ranging livestock would cause for the new highway.
In April of 1957 Ocracoke native, R. Stanley Wahab, circulated a petition to have all free-ranging livestock removed from the island. Excerpts from the petition follow:
“The new highway on Ocracoke Island is now being retarded and damaged by cattle and horses running at large along the beach adjacent to the highway and the area where sand fences are being erected.
“On several occasions while driving on the new highway where grass, planted by the Highway Commission, on the shoulders of the highway had started to grow, cattle and horses were seen grazing and eating this grass which had sprung up, thereby destroying the grass before it could fully mature and serve its purpose. Furthermore, the sand shoulders of the highway and the sand caught by the sand fences is being trampled by livestock running at large. The two hundred cattle and about fifty horses are destroying what the State of North Carolina and the U. S. Government have expended large sum of taxpayer’s money to build.
“The beach land is not the only property where damage is being inflicted. In the village of Ocracoke property owners (the great majority do not own any livestock) are the victims. Horses run at large on the property of the citizens and also on the land in the village that is owned by the Park Service. Stallions and mares are conspicuous in their breeding process, fences are being damaged and torn down, horses are dumping dung on the lands and in the yards of the property owners and are destroying their flowers and other vegetation.
“There is a Bill pending in the present N. C. General Assembly to remove all livestock from Ocracoke Island. Amendments have been offered and are now in process which would permit thirty horses to remain for the use of the Boy scouts. If such amendments would pass, the present damage and destruction would continue to exist.
“Our citizens like and admire the Boy Scouts and would not object to their horses being kept, provided they are kept penned and not permitted to run at large on public land and on the property of those who do not own horses.
“A great majority of our citizens are opposed to horses and other livestock running at large on Ocracoke Island, in defiance of the existing N. C. No Fence Law.’
Seventeen people signed the petition.
Marvin Howard, scoutmaster of Ocracoke’s mounted Boy Scout Troop #290, was successful in allowing a remnant herd of banker ponies to remain on the island. Marvin, with help from the boy scouts, constructed the first pony pen on National Park Service land. All remaining free-ranging livestock was removed from the island.