Council Adopts Restrictions For Alcohol, Camping At Freeman Park

Council Adopts Restrictions For Alcohol, Camping At Freeman Park Featured

By / Local News / Wednesday, 12 November 2014 05:00

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CAROLINA BEACH  - The Carolina Beach Town 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 a limited number of campsites.
This follows Council's recent decision to raise rates for four-wheel drive vehicle access to the park earlier this year.

Park Regulations:

The Council discussed several regulatory changes proposed by Town Manager Michael Cramer to address safety Those included eliminating delivery of alcohol to the park, prohibiting people from digging holes on the beach, fines for driving below the high tide line and prohibiting all-wheel drive vehicles from entering the park.
Cramer explained those changes are, "Intended to combat issues with over served individuals on the beach, dangers to participants and vehicles, ensuring operational vehicles on the beach and ensuring compliance with town ordinances."
Police Chief Ken Hinkle said people bring their own alcohol and when they run out, they often call to have more delivered to the park. Several residents complained earlier this year at a Council workshop that delivery of alcohol leads to people consuming too much alcohol and underage drinking.
Digging holes in the sand was addressed due to people digging large holes for campfires, sand castles or simply to sleep in at night. Even holes that are partially filled in can cause damage to vehicles or present a hazard to pedestrians walking along the beach.
Cramer said driving below the high tide mark became an issue earlier this year when high tides and an eroded beach made it unsafe for vehicles to drive past a certain point in the park. Even though the area was marked impassable for vehicles, when the tide went out people drove around the barricades below the high tide line. Cramer said it was an issue of respect for the rules and being able to fine people for violations in the future would help with enforcement.
Owners of all-wheel vehicles often think they can drive out onto the beach in Freeman Park. This became a more prominent issue earlier this year when a wooden Hatteras Ramp was installed at the entrance to help promote traffic flow and avoid backups at the gate.
The change would prohibit all-wheel vehicles from entering the park even if owners object and claim their vehicle can make it through the soft sand in the same manner as an actual four-wheel drive vehicle.
Additionally, since the Council raised the rate for holiday weekend vehicle passes to $50 per day, and the fine for not having a permit is $50, Cramer recommended the Council raise the fine to $100.
The Council voted unanimously to adopt the changes proposed by Cramer. The Council will have to vote on the actual wording of those ordinance amendments at a later date before the rules are implemented prior to next season.

Reservations For Camping and Restricting A Limited Number of Campsites:

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.
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.
A "pack it in, pack it out" policy would be emphasized by handing out 45 gallon garbage bags so visitors can take their garbage with them rather than leaving it on the beach.
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."
She explained, "I think in the end if we are trying to control the camping and control the chaos and be better stewards of the environment we are still going to end up with the same limited number of campsites."
She said restricting the sites to the area along the dunes is the best option.
Mayor Dan Wilcox said, "It was on my list to begin with. Lets look at what regulating camping looks like. What I had anticipated was is that we were going to look at what we consider a busy weekend and we were going to make a determined decision from that. And say ok, we have 850 campsites out there and our goal is to reduce impact by 30%, or 50%. I didn't expect that we were just going to pick a convenient number and say we are going to allow a hundred people out there. So we are reducing our potential camping by 90% virtually. Not that money is everything but we have some unintended consequences where it comes to revenue when we use these revenues sources for many other things we are trying to put aside for beach nourishment and stuff. There is a strong possibility that when you reduce camping by 90% you are going to dramatically reduce park revenue."
Wilcox said Town staff had indicated it was a complex issue and there should be a pilot program to ease into any changes.
Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said the 897 campsites was a high number on Memorial Day. He said, "If you had 100 spaces you had not quite 90% reduction on 4th of July, but the rest of the time it's not a 90% reduction."
Shuttleworth said residents have told him, "Stop the craziness out there. And the craziness they define is too much trash, too many people, too much alcohol." He said he supported a limited number of campsites along the dune line. He said the recent rate increases are starting to price out the blue-collar families.
The Council  voted a couple of years ago to dedicate $350,000 of revenues from Freeman Park towards future beach nourishment and inlet dredging projects due to the Federal Government no longer fully funding such projects.
He said people often say the Town makes a million dollars a year off of the park, but that in reality after expenses they make around $350,000. He said if the changes and restrictions on camping impacts that revenue the Council would have to revisit the issue.
He said the Town Manager and staff can finalize a policy and plan prior to April 2015 and when people start purchasing annual passes in December the Town can alert them to the upcoming changes so they can decided whether or not they still want to buy a pass.
Council member Leann Pierce questioned how the Town would respond to a family with three kids arriving, pitching their tent and being told they have to leave and all of the hotels are full.
Council member Sarah Friede said, "That's kind of on them."
Shuttleworth said he would support reserving a number of sites for people who arrive at the park without a reservation.
Friede said it's an issue of protecting the environment and police officers by determining what they can handle.
Shuttleworth had a motion prepared prior to the meeting and stated, "Design a camp reservation system for Freeman Park which will 1) limit camping to a single strand line of campsites along the dune line from areas four to twenty-six subject to staff limits for seasonal high tides and other events. 2. Have the rules and reservations policies in place on or before March 27th, 2015. That's the weekend before Easter. 3. For this year, 2015, allow a percentage of the sites to be reserved at the entrance or another local site if possible. Include notices and disclaimers on all annual passes sold prior to March 27th, that substantial rules changes regarding limited camping are coming and to only pass on the nominal online reservation fee of approximately $2 to the daily rate. I would amend that if Michael wants the $10."
He explained, "My thought on that is to have staff have the direction to design the number and sizes of camps, the posting or number of sites, the enforcement and reservations issues of non-compliant tickets."
He said, "I just don't think we can get in here and second guess all of the different problems, questions or loopholes that people are going to come up with."
Council members Shuttleworth, Gary Doetsch, Sarah Friede and Leann Pierce voted in favor of Shuttleworth's motion. Mayor Dan Wilcox voted against the motion.
Frequent park visitor and New Hanover County resident James Mathis said he worked for Domino's Pizza on the Island for many years and also worked for the Brew Thru on Lake Park Blvd. He said contrary to statements made about Brew Thru delivering alcohol at one or 2AM in the morning, that's not possible since they take the last orders at around 9PM and are not open at 2AM. 
Mathis explained, "I was the guy taking beer out there and I checked every single ID. The owner of Brew Thru takes his permits seriously and I highly doubt that he is delivering beer to anybody under age."
Mathis said he's worked with people to help clean the dunes and even though he's not a citizen of Carolina Beach, he has a right to speak on the issue.
Mathis said he's been going to the park area since before it was a park when he was in his teens. He questioned why the Town would pass new rules when they often can't enforce the ones they currently have. He said if he's with friends and they decide at the spur of the moment to visit the park at 8PM and sit on the beach by a fire, and, "If I have to get on my phone or computer at 8PM and register for a permit and pay $10 to do something that I've doing for years at the drop of a hat, I'm going to be pretty upset about it. My brother already said if most of these changes are enforced he's not going to buy a season pass and I don't know that I will either."

Below is a map showing the limited campsites along the dune line. Click here to view the Town Manager's study and recommendations. (Opens a PDF file you can read online or save to your computer).


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