Carolina Beach Opens Reservation System For Freeman Park Camping

Carolina Beach Opens Reservation System For Freeman Park Camping Featured

By / Local News / Wednesday, 25 March 2015 04:00

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Town of Carolina Beach is now accepting camping reservations for Freeman Park. The Town announced a new online reservation system that began operating last week.
Overnight camping between April 1st and September 30th now requires an advance paid reservation. Camping is only permitted in a limited number of designated campsites.
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.
In a press release issued by Town Manager Michael Cramer last week it stated, "With the activation of the new webpage, park patrons can easily reserve and pay for a campsite and daily park pass online. It's the quick and simple way to handle everything in one place. Visit the website at http://freeman.spplusparking.com to reserve a spot online. You'll also find information about site access, amenities, and updated rules and regulations. Daytime visitors can still set up sunshades, day tents, and canopies; however they must be removed prior to 11:00 pm each night. Any questions about the new reservation system should be directed to SP Plus Parking at 910-458-4614."
The Town Council adopted new restrictions for camping at Freeman Park during their February 10th, meeting.
The new restrictions limit the number of campsites to approximately 119 30' wide and 36’ deep sites along the sand dunes within the park. Camping along the shoreline of the beach will no longer be permitted and campsites must be reserved online in advance paying $10 per day.
Currently the estimated number in the summer has been around 875 sites on busy holiday weekends.
Camping will be free in the off-season.
An online petition was started the week prior to the meeting objecting to the new restrictions gained nearly 1,500 signatures. Some areas of the park will no longer permit parking or camping due to erosion at times making those areas narrow. If the sand returns the Town could open those areas for additional campsites. Some of those areas had to be closed last year at various times due to high tides cutting off vehicle access to northern parts of the 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.
During the Council's February 10th, meeting Daryl McGee said he and other friends meet at the park several times a year to go fishing. He said forcing people to camp near the dunes means they, and their children, will have to cross a large expanse of beach where four wheel drive vehicles are traveling. He said, "How about all those kids going from the camp to the water, that's a big issue."
Wilmington resident Scott Sink said he created a petition four days before the meeting that gained almost 1,500 signatures opposed to the new restrictions on camping.
Sink said some petitioners are handicap and one person who signed the petition commented, "I have an artificial leg. Am I going to have to go 50 yards back and forth to the water all day long with my handicap? Is there going to be any accommodation for me?"
Sink said he feels there are many issues both large and small that have not been addressed while writing the new restrictions.
Sink previously asked the Town to reconsider because he organizes a jet ski event that has taken place in Freeman Park for several years hosting up to 150 people. He said the new restrictions will force the event to move across the inlet to Masonboro Island.
Cramer noted some of the new rules:
- No more than two vehicles at a campsite.
- No more than 12 people at a campsite.
- Passes will be sold online.
- At least one adult 18 or older at a site.
- Check in at noon. Check out at 10am.
- Reservations can be canceled up to 48 hours before check in date.
- Transaction fee to prohibit people from making mass reservations via credit card.
- Only allowed to reserve 5 sites at a time.
- Quiet hours from 11pm to 7am.
- Emergency reservation system on an iPad used by an attendant for those visitors unaware of the new restrictions. 12 emergency campsites will be made available.
Mayor Dan Wilcox said, "I have been in objection... that we are doing to much to fast but there is no question that something has to be done. Because we believe differently doesn't mean any of us are wrong. We are all trying to do what is best for our community. My main concerns are the safety of families going back and forth and at least the first year of people driving many hours and showing up down here, these are people we can't get in touch with and having a lot more than 12 people show up and having no place for them to go, no hotel rooms and then we are sending them back to Wilmington to rent a hotel."
At a previous meeting 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.
Council member Sarah Friede said she read through at least 100 of the comments on the online petition. She said there were many people coming late to the issue unaware of the previous meetings that have been held.
She said, "Most of the people that commented were not from Carolina Beach. I suspect most people who commented had no idea we had a meeting that lasted for hours several months ago which we heard from people both on island and off island. We have people that live up on the North End that cannot access their homes on the weekends in the summer. When we get phone calls from people saying I just gave up and I'm turning around and leaving for a few hours in the hopes that in another few hours the line to the North End will be short enough that I can get home. To me, that perspective, that voice, that person, that needs to be something we take very seriously."
Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said the focus is on the busy season when visitor counts are high. He said, "We had the largest public forum that we've had on any subject since I've been on Council... there were a number of local residents that said go to $200, close the park, no alcohol, no camping, close it at 10pm, close it at 11pm. Whether you can appreciate these rules we are implementing or not, believe me when I tell you it is a compromise from some of the people on the Island that said we don't want it."
He said, "This is one of the few places that I can find in research that you can actually drive your vehicle and camp on the beach" noting that other nearby beach towns do not permit that activity.
He said it's been a burden on the environment and this will help resolve both safety and environmental issues.
The Council voted four to one with Council members Sarah Friede, Leann Pierce, Gary Doetsch and Steve Shuttleworth voting in favor of the restrictions. Mayor Wilcox voted no.

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