Council Wants Clear Language For Freeman Park Camping Restrictions

Council Wants Clear Language For Freeman Park Camping Restrictions Featured

By / Local News / Wednesday, 14 January 2015 05:00

Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council delayed taking action to change rules governing camping at Freeman Park during their Tuesday January 13th, meeting. That included restricting the number of campsites and requiring reservations to camp. There was some confusion regarding sleeping in vehicles, what constituted camping and other issues related to how the rule changes are written. Council directed Town Manager Michael Cramer to bring the amendment back to Council next month after refining the language for clarity.
Many residents voiced concerns during the meeting the new restrictions on camping will not solve the perceived problems largely generated by people visiting the park with a party mentality, littering, being loud, unruly and violating other park rules.
The proposed change would limit camping to 100 campsites in an area adjacent to the sand dunes and a long distance from the actual shoreline. It would also require people to make reservations online prior to their visit, although Cramer said some spaces may be held for visitors unaware of the change this summer so they can purchase a camping permit.
The Town has been warning people before purchasing Freeman Park vehicle passes for 2015, some rules will change. However, those changes have not yet been made official.
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 covered 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.
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 but the Council voted to move forward with full implementation of the new camping restrictions. The Council voted in November 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.
Local resident Chuck Dunlap said he's lived here for ten years and used to work at the Carolina Beach Fishing Pier. He explained, "We all know there are issues at Freeman Park, but I think we are going about it the wrong way" and enforcement of existing rules is the issue.
He said raising the price to $50 a day will not solve the issues because college students or military personnel coming from Fort Bragg will split the cost of a pass five ways making it cheap for each person in their group. He said, "You will take out the families" explaining that a lot of people come down for the weekend and will not pay $50, which is a 150% price increase.
He said enforcing the laws concerning litter would certainly help that issue.
Local resident Marshal Stevenson said he and his wife bought a truck with a camper top and a bed in the back. They often decide to head out to Freeman Park at the spur of the moment to go camping, watch the sunrise and then he can go to work. Stevenson said requiring reservations to camp would eliminate that option.
He said, "Granted something does need to be done on the holiday weekends" and they usually don't visit the park at those times. He said enforcing the existing rules concerning litter is a good place to start along with empowering civic groups to help clean up the park at times, similar to the Adopt-a-highway program.
Town Manager Michael Cramer said he will work on making changes to the wording of the ordinance to clear up language concerning sleeping in vehicles, falling asleep while fishing and other scenarios. One question concerned people fishing while their children were asleep in the back of a truck or SUV and whether that would be considered camping.
Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said he was fine with the way the ordinance was written but agreed with Council to let Cramer refine the language. He said even with clarifying the rules someone will eventually try to find loopholes such as sleeping in their vehicles.
He pointed out that while the number of campsites will be reduced drastically from the 875 counted on Memorial Day Weekend, other much larger parks in North Carolina such as Kerr Lake at 50,000 acres has only 650 spots and Freeman Park is only a two mile long stretch of beach.


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