By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
The current Town Council discussed further restrictions on hours of vehicle access and the number of people that can camp within Freeman Park at their November 28th, workshop 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."
A new Mayor, Joe Benson, and a new Councilman, Jodan Garza, will be sworn in at the December 12th, Council meeting. Those newly elected leaders will brush up on the history of Freeman Park. Not enough room in this editorial to go into detail, but in short it has evolved into a revenue generator for the Town since it was first established in the early 2000's. When it began generating over a million dollars a year, former Councilman Lonnie Lashley pushed for the Council to dedicate at least $350,000 of those profits each year from daily and annual vehicles passes towards funding beach nourishment projects and Carolina Beach Inlet dredging.
Over the years I've warned leaders about putting most of their revenue generating eggs in a single basket because Freeman Park could be impacted by hurricanes or future development (Far fetched, but possible as the dunes build up and acres expand). On the other hand, any further restrictions that reduce the overall revenue generated by Freeman Park will in turn reduce the amount of money the Town can place in savings to help fund beach nourishment projects to help maintain a wider beach in front of property tax generating beach front homes. There needs to be a balance between operational woes and putting money in our coffers.
The Council will consider Cramer's recommendations at their January 9th, meeting following a public hearing.