Council Approves Penalties For Illegal Camping At Freeman Park

Council Approves Penalties For Illegal Camping At Freeman Park Featured

By / Local News / Wednesday, 13 May 2015 04:00

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council missed a minor detail when they restricted camping within Freeman Park earlier this year. There was no penalty adopted for camping outside of designated campsites. The Council unanimously adopted such a penalty at their May 12th, 2015 meeting following a public hearing where no one from the public spoke on the matter.
The lack of penalty became an issue after the Council voted earlier this year to implement new restrictions on camping at Freeman Park on the North End of Pleasure Island. For the first time in history the area is now restricted to 119 camp sites, down from an estimated 875 on holiday weekends last summer. Town Manager Michael Cramer explained to Council in a memo earlier this week, "Currently the town does not have a penalty for camping without a permit. In order to continue to establish the rules and regulation regarding Freeman Park it is necessary to develop a penalty for violations." Cramer will recommend the Council adopt a rule imposing a $50 fine for people who camp without a permit in Freeman Park. Camping is not permitted along the beach within Town limits outside of the boundary of the park.
During the May 12th, meeting Cramer explained, "This is one of the last items that we did not change regarding Freeman Park regulations over the past five or six months. Currently we have camping in place and since April we have been reserving and processing camping reservations. So far things have worked out pretty well but we all know what's coming at the end of next week. We are sure it will be much more intense."
He explained, "We set up the schedule so that we would have reservations required during the peak season and not during the rest of the off season at the park. Right now we have no way to enforce that. For the most part what we are doing... is to go out and talk with the individuals. Make sure they have personal contact with each one of the campers and find out if they have a permit."
He said, "If they do, great, we keep moving along. If they don't have a permit, right now what they attempt to do is scan the calendar and make sure we have available campsites" and, "If we have an available campsite we will go and reserve it for them online and process payment online out there on site."
Cramer explained the penalty is, "For those habitual offenders who continue to come back to the park and who don't follow the rules and get their reservations. At some point in time we'll need to be able to say, I'm sorry this is the third or fourth time that we've helped you out with this and that you haven't been issued a permit, here's your penalty for non-compliance. This is basically a penalty that's in the same rank as all of the other penalties at Freeman Park which is $50.00"
Councilman Gary Doetsch recommended a warning for the first offense followed by a ticket and fine for the second offense and on the third offense, revoking the driver's vehicle pass to drive into the park.
Cramer said, "We have the ability to pull passes for any violation of the Town regulations on Freeman Park, so camping shouldn't be any different in that regard."
The Council unanimously agreed with Doetsch's recommendation and adopted the $50.00 penalty. Revoking a vehicle permit would be for the season and the policy can be adjusted later if a need arises.

NO VACANCY: All Freeman Park Campsites Booked For Memorial Day Weekend

On April 30th, the Town issued a press release stating that all 119 campsites at Freeman Park in Carolina Beach have been reserved for Memorial Day Weekend, May 22, 2015 to May 24, 2015. The Town of Carolina Beach issued a notice Thursday afternoon stating, "The online reservation system for overnight camping in Freeman Park is working great-the system is easy to use and is being utilized daily by campers. The upcoming Memorial Day Weekend has already sold out all 119 campsites between May 22nd-May 24th! We advise anyone planning an overnight camping trip to Freeman Park to check the online reservation website, www.freeman.spplusparking.com, and verify that spots are available. There's also information about site access, amenities, and updated rules and regulations. Any questions about camping in Freeman Park should be directed to SP Plus Parking at 910-458-4614."
The Town began accepting camping reservations in March of this year. 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.

History:

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 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. Previously the estimated number of campsites in the summer has been around 875 on busy holiday weekends.
Camping will be free in the off-season.
Some of the 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.
- No sleeping or camping in vehicles.
At a meeting in February 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 an online petition opposing the new restrictions. 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 camping restrictions. Mayor Wilcox voted no.

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