By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council discussed possible changes for rules and camping at Freeman Park during their Tuesday November 28th, meeting.
Freeman Park, located beyond the end of Canal Drive on the Northern End of Pleasure Island, is largely outside of the Town's jurisdiction. They have authority to manage the area as a park. That was granted to them by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners some years ago.
There is a fee charged for vehicle access to drive on the beach front within the park. There is a separate fee for camping during the summer months.
Town Manager Michael Cramer explained to the Council that, "Over the past four years the Town has significantly improved the family friendly atmosphere on Freeman Park and improved the protection of the environment. Several months ago Town Council and Staff had conducted a workshop to review ways to address several issues on Freeman Park. The issues include camping, trash, restroom facilities and overall beach patron behavior. Recently the Town and CAMA have been approached by a group of property owners about growing the dunes toward the ocean and installing sand fence. These issues are critical to the operations of Freeman Park and we would like to have a follow up conversation with Council."
The Council discussed issues including enforcement of park rules as well as how to possibly limit the number of people at a campsite, the number of vehicles at a campsite and educating people about maintaining a clean environment by further promoting the idea of "pack it in, pack it out."
Cramer said hiring people to patrol the area was a problem last year and he's working on a way to increase manpower within the park in addition to existing police patrols, lifeguards and employees that handle trash and maintaining portable toilets.
Another recommendation is to increase the number of signs that display the rules in Spanish and hiring people that can speak Spanish and English.
Camping is only permitted at designated campsites within the park. Reservations can be made online on a first come, first serve basis for $20 per night.
One proposal would require arm bands for people staying at a campsite. Anyone can walk into the park for free, but overnight camping can only occur at a designated campsite. Arm bands would serve as an means of identification. Cramer said when talking to campers officials could say, "Yes, you do have the appropriate number in here and you are not overloading the campsite with 12, 14 or 15 people." One recommendation is to limit that number to eight.
Cramer said another recommendation is to limit the hours of operation. He explained, "We have a couple of recommendations that are there. Either closing the park to vehicle entry after 9pm or saying that all day-trippers that are on the ocean side have to leave the park by 11pm. The issue with that becomes enforcement and how do you handle it. Do you literally take the police trucks and drive down the beach and start corralling people ad pushing them off. Yeah you would probably have to. That's going to be manpower and labor intensive. But it would go and send a message and start changing the atmosphere there."
Cramer said, "We are going to start selling season passes with the early bird special... we start December 1st and go through the 15th, with those so that anybody that is a local or can get access here, can purchase them here" at a discount.
He explained, "That's for the vehicle and not for the campsites. Some of those regulations we can implement later on.... If we were to change hours and things of that nature, I think that would probably be best that we change that before we started selling those season passes."
Council member Leann Pierce said, "My concern on that is there are a lot of people that like to go out there and fish all night and they are not the people causing a problem. They want to fish all night and I have a problem with asking them to leave. We can leave the exit available then you can not allow entry after a certain time... but I'm really concerned about that because that's been a long tradition on the North End."
Council discussed eliminating campsites past the "pinch point" where the beach is very narrow and at certain times of the year and depending on tides and weather conditions, people can become stranded with no way to drive out of that area. That also creates an issue for emergency and police vehicles when an emergency arises.
The Council took no action during the workshop. The Council will consider the issue again at their January meeting.
Pierce said she wanted to hear input from the public prior to Council approving any recommended changes.