Town Limiting Access To Freeman Park Due To Erosion, Overcrowding

If you are planning to visit Freeman Park on the North End of Carolina Beach over the July 4th, holiday weekend, call ahead first (910-458-2999). The Town is temporarily closing the park at times to prevent overcrowding after beach erosion made nearly half of the park inaccessible for driving and camping. (Photos: Joe Benson) If you are planning to visit Freeman Park on the North End of Carolina Beach over the July 4th, holiday weekend, call ahead first (910-458-2999). The Town is temporarily closing the park at times to prevent overcrowding after beach erosion made nearly half of the park inaccessible for driving and camping. (Photos: Joe Benson)

Town Limiting Access To Freeman Park Due To Erosion, Overcrowding Featured

By / Local News / Wednesday, 03 July 2019 17:16

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The July 4th holiday weekend begins Thursday for many people, and for those wanting to visit Freeman Park on the North End of Carolina Beach, that may not be an option.

Town officials began temporarily closing the park last week each day due to overcrowding  caused by erosion on the beach.

According to a statement issued by the Town on June 21st, "The Town of Carolina Beach will temporarily shut down traffic traveling north of Zone 12 in Freeman Park. Tidal erosion has created an environment which is not adequate for passage. Town representatives will assess the narrow passage areas in the morning after tidal changes."

Freeman Park, located beyond the end of Canal Drive in Carolina Beach has been a popular destination for four wheel drive enthusiasts for many years.

The Town of Carolina Beach manages the area as a park and charges for vehicle access and camping permits. The cost for the 2019 annual vehicle permit is $200 per vehicle. Daily passes are $40. Daily holiday passes are $60.

Camping is permitted for a charge of $30 per night and reservations are required.

Freeman Park is largely outside of the Town's jurisdiction. The Town owns the first 1,000 feet beyond of the end of Canal Drive. After that, parcels are privately owned. Private properties west of the front of the dune line are considered private while any portion of a property located east of the front of the dune line is open to public use under State Law as a public-trust area. That includes the dry sand beach east to the high water mark. The wet sand beach belongs to the State of North Carolina.

The Town has authority to manage the public-trust beach 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. The Town doesn't charge people a fee to walk into the park. They can only charge for four-wheel drive vehicle access. The Town has the authority under State Law to “regulate, restrict and prohibit” vehicles driving on the dry sand beach within the public-trust area.

On June 22nd the Town announced they will limit access to the park due to overcrowding. In a notice published online, Town officials explained, "Due to a combination of closing the area north of Zone 12 and great beach weather, conditions in Freeman Park have become over crowded. For the safety of our patrons, we will close access to vehicular traffic to Freeman Park between 1:30PM - 4:30PM. We do not anticipate conditions changing for Sunday, June 23rd, and visitors should plan on additional closures pending the level of patron use."

On July 1st, the Town issued another update stating, "Freeman Park will continue to open daily to annual permit holders and/or those with reservations for camping in Zone 1. However, we anticipate closing the park once patron use reaches park capacity levels. Currently, neither vehicular access nor camping is allowed past Zone 1 (aka Zone J)."

On July 1st, Mayor Joe Benson published photos online and explained, " High tide this evening (July 1). These photos illustrate the need for closures north of zone 10 quite clearly. I appreciate the leadership of our interim town manager, Ed Parvin, and his department heads over the last week. They were on point. Police, Fire, and Operations had a special meeting today to discuss plans for Freeman Park throughout the holiday and weekend. The Town will keep operations similar to this past weekend. I appreciate Town staff being out there in the morning to help park cars and set up the park safely."

The Council received an update from Interim Town Manager Ed Parvin during their June 25th, meeting. Parvin explained, "We have begun to have some issues on Freeman Park. Access 10, which is Zone 10... that's approximately where we have roped off the beach and are not allowing any access past that point. The only campsites that are accessible are Zone 1... the rest of Freeman Park is closed."

Parvin explained that tidal erosion beyond Zone 10 (the half way point) in the park requires vehicles to travel through a narrow area of sand. Because that sand is "wet" and it's illegal to drive on the "wet sand beach", access has been prohibited temporarily.

He explained, "One of our folks went up there and basically if you drove across here at high tide you would be in the water. It's impassable at high tide and you will be breaking the rules if you're passing at low tide and going in the wet sand area."

He explained, "The tide range now is three and a half feet and it is only going up as we move towards 4th of July. One that is a consideration for us is early notification because there are a lot of campers that have already reserved past this pinch point."

Parvin said on Saturday vehicles lined up in Freeman Park and then a lot of people began parking their vehicles and walking beyond the pinch point beyond Zone 10. He said, "People basically abandoned their cars and turned it into a parking lot here and it turned into a lot of people getting trapped and couldn't get their vehicle out as the tides were coming up."

He said, "It was a safety issue which resulted in us not closing the park, but closing for any new patrons to come on Saturday after 1pm."

Parvin said after meeting with Town departments, "Our recommendations are to announce there will be no camping north of Zone 1 until further notice until that pinch point opens back up. There will be no day-passes sold after Thursday. And that's to give priority for those folks that have already purchased their year-long passes. We are looking at an objective way to look at how we safely monitor the north end and make a solid closure. What we are looking at doing is, once we've established that there is a full first row of vehicles on the beach front, we will look at a one to two hours from that. So if at 11am on Saturday if the first row is full, an hour or two after that it will give us time to advertise and let people know that we'll close it down similar to what we did Saturday."

That temporary closure would only apply to vehicles and not for people walking into the park. Those vehicles already in the park could stay, but vehicle access into the park would be suspended for a period of time to prevent overcrowding.

Parvin said the Town is working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to post messages on digital signs leading into Town to alert the public to temporary closure of the park when required. He said notifications will be sent out to local media as well as posted on the Town's website and Facebook page in an effort to alert the public. The Town sold approximately six thousand annual passes to date this year.

Councilman Steve Shuttleworth asked Parvin to bring Council information on the possibility of offering a refund to people who purchased annual passes who are now upset because of the limitations.

Shuttleworth said, "We can't control Mother Nature. We can't control the fact that we've had erosion out there that could cut the North End off. We've known for years that we could lose the whole North End. If we get a storm it could cut a whole new inlet up there. So it's not something that we are magically plotting." He said the erosion in that area has occurred at times over the years and typically the shifting of the winds from one season to another can also bring sand back to that area of beach.

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