Council To Vote On New Restrictions For Freeman Park On Jan. 13th

Council To Vote On New Restrictions For Freeman Park On Jan. 13th Featured

By / Local News / Wednesday, 07 January 2015 05:00

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Town of Carolina Beach has been warning people before purchasing Freeman Park vehicle passes for 2015, some rules will change including restrictions on camping. However, those changes have not yet been made official and the Town Council will consider voting to change the rules at their upcoming January 13th, meeting at 6:30 PM at Town Hall.
The Town of Carolina Beach started selling 2015 Freeman Park passes on December 1st. The pass comes with a notice that camping regulations are "currently being drafted, and may be subject to change at anytime." That's because the Town will not officially implement new restrictions until they hold public hearings at their January 13th 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 beachfront within the park. The Town, by it's own admission, doesn't charge people to walk into the park. They can only charge for four-wheel drive vehicle access.
The notice presented to people at the time they purchase an annual pass states:
• Camping overnight will now require online reservations in advance.
• Camping overnight will cost of $10.00 per night in addition to the normal park fees (daily and annual).
• Camping overnight is only allowed in Town assigned/designated camp sites on the dune side of the park.
• NO OVERNIGHT CAMPING ALLOWED on ocean side of park.
With the statement informing the rules may change at a later date.
The January 13th hearings will cover camping, adjusting penalties, leaping from commercial fishing piers, digging holes on the beach, and vending within Freeman Park.
On October 14, 2014, the Town Council approved a recommendation by the Freeman Park Advisory Committee to increase access fees onto Freeman Park.  Effective December 1, 2014 through December 15, 2014 the town will offer an Annual 2015 Freeman Park Pass for $75.00.  The pass must be applied for in person at Island Tackle and Hardware, Town Hall or the Town Parking Office to receive the discounted rate. All other Annual 2015 Freemen Park Passes sold after December 15th will be sold at a rate of $150.00 and will be offered on-line or at the above mentioned locations.  Effective January 1, 2015, daily passes will be sold on-line or at the Freeman Park Entrance Gate for $30.00.  A new rate has been approved for all Daily Holiday Access Passes.  On the four days around the holidays of Easter, Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day the access pass to drive on Freeman Park will be $50.00 per day.
The Council voted at their November 10th, meeting to implement new rules and restrict camping within Freeman Park on the North End of Pleasure Island. Starting next year visitors to the park will be required to make advance reservations to camp within 92 to 100 campsites. Currently the estimated number in the summer has been  around 875 sites.
Cramer explained, "We anticipate that by raising the rates on the access passes and increasing the penalty for improper activity on the beach that we will help strengthen the environmental stewardship of our visitors."
Cramer supplied Council with a map of the park showing "92 to 100" campsites near the sand dunes far removed from the area near the water.
According to a study given to the Council by Cramer, "During the 2014 Memorial Day Weekend the Police Department physically counted an estimated 857 camping locations on Freeman Park per day." Legally the town is not able to limit the access of individuals walking into the park, however, we can limit the number of campsites approved for visitors and require a reservation to camp. Restricting the number of campsites would in theory limit the number of people in the park and address issues such as litter.
Cramer told the Council the issue of controlling camping is "far too complex to complete in a single year" and recommended a pilot program.
He explained, "One of the challenges is how to delineate a camp site and what rules will be in place to regulate camping at those locations. Along with that is a concern that if we arbitrarily decide on a number of camping locations for the whole area of Freeman Park we may damage the attractiveness of the park and turn people away from experiencing it.  We recommend that we establish a pilot program that allows individuals to reserve a defined campsite against the dunes during the prime season between April 1st and October 31st, at a rate of $10.00 per night."
Under the proposed pilot program, all other campsites would be free and on a first come, first served basis. As people purchase daily or annual passes the Town could ask questions about camping and develop statistical information on the number of campsites and when they are being used.
Cramer said with that information they would be able to analyze the general number of users, campers to non-campers and other statistical information to better adjust their management strategies for the following year. That would include a vehicle counting device at the entrance.
There were discussions of how to manage camping permits including hiring seasonal park rangers at $15 to $20 an hour to enforce camping rules and reservation requirements.
Cramer recommended a Crawl, Walk, Run approach. That included:
- 2014 – CRAWL: Educate Visitors about Rules / Limited Enforcement.
- 2015 – WALK: Address Camping Slowly / Increase Enforcement
- 2016 – RUN:     Finalize Camping Rules / Enforce Fully
Council member Sarah Friede said it would be counter productive to make people reserve campsites next to the dunes and then, "Allow the oceanside to be the free for all that it has been. How many ever people packed in doing whatever they are doing. That doesn't make sense."
The Council voted to move forward with the camping restrictions for 2015. Mayor Dan Wilcox voted against the move saying limiting it to 100 sites was a 90% reduction and he wasn't in favor of picking an arbitrary number that could impact overall revenues that are used for other expenses such as beach nourishment projects.


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