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Back You are here: Home News Local and State News Local Carolina Beach Council Talks Future Limitations For Freeman Park

Carolina Beach Council Talks Future Limitations For Freeman Park

The Carolina Beach Town Council discussed at their June 11, meeting various options to control litter and other issues observed at Freeman Park over the Memorial Day holiday weekend last month.

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - Crowds flocked to Freeman Park on the North End of Carolina Beach over Memorial Day weekend. The Carolina Beach Town Council took notice of issues within the park. Most notably piles of litter left behind by visitors. Several Council members visited the park following the holiday weekend to pick up trash and speak with the public.
Freeman Park, located at the end of Canal Drive in Carolina Beach, is one of the few areas on the east coast that permits four-wheel drive vehicles on the beach. Camping and campfires are permitted in designated areas. Each vehicle is required to display a pass to enter the park. The cost of the season permit is $100.00 and daily passes are $20.00 at the entrance.  Weekend passes are $40 for 2 days and $50 for 3 days.
During the Council's June 11, meeting Council members asked staff members to come up with some ideas to better control the area prior to the upcoming busy July 4th holiday weekend.
Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said officials from the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management, "Were extremely supportive of the Hatteras ramps" that could be placed at the park entrance to help avoid vehicles getting stuck in the soft sand and blocking the entrance and exit. The ramps are wood slats linked together and placed atop the sand.
Shuttleworth said Town officials met with state officials at the park during a demonstration of a mechanical beach rake on Monday June 10.
He explained, "They also encouraged us on using, potentially, the concrete ash pits so we could install some structures out there that are removable in a storm but people could dump their ashes in" when leaving the park.
One common complaint is people camping and building a campfire in a container and then dumping the ashes on the beach before leaving because there's no where to properly dispose of the wood and coals. Previous proposals where turned down by former administrations.
Shuttleworth said, "We tell people to have some container to burn a fire in and then we give them no place to put the coals or the ashes so they are dumping them on the beach" and creating a hazard for other beachgoers.
Shuttleworth asked the Freeman Park Committee and Operations Department to look at adding another trash trailer closer to the entrance of the park. He said people often try to dispose of damaged pop-up tents and other larger items in the smaller blue trashcans, which fill them up quickly. He said another trash trailer would facilitate proper disposal of larger items rather than just tossing them next to a can or simply leaving them on the beach.
Shuttleworth said, "What I heard overwhelmingly from a lot of people who contacted me... was can we start looking at a limit on the number of people and camping. Personally I'm not there yet but we need to start thinking about how we would designate the number of people that could camp in a certain zone."
Council member Jodi smith said, "I think we have to figure out something before the 4th of July."
Shuttleworth said the parking attendants at the gate should start keeping track of how many people go out there and how often they are using their passes. He said changing the rules and placing a limit on attendance would not be ideal in the middle of the season.
Police Chief Kurt Bartley said he instructed the Park Committee to start over and take a fresh to look at the rules and management of the park to address many of the issues.
Mayor Bob Lewis explained, "We need to get some type of plan by 4th of July weekend. We've got to pick a number of people that we are going to allow... and then just no longer allow anymore vehicles on there. An unlimited amount of vehicles we are just way way out of control. I don't know what that number is." He said whether that's 2,000 vehicles or another number, "I don't know how we are going to do this... but we have to figure a way to slow the capacity."
Council member Sarah Friede said she wanted to her from the police department on what is a safe number of people and vehicles permitted in the park.
She said, "I think we should make people make reservations to get up there. They bought an annual pass, that's great, but if they want to go up there for a weekend they have to be one of the first 200 cars or something like that or they just can't."
Shuttleworth and other Council members were not in favor of implementing a reservation system or limiting vehicles this close to the 4th of July weekend because many people have already purchased their passes.
Shuttleworth said increasing police presence, additional trashcans and educating people about park rules is a great way to start addressing the issue.
He said many people have commented the park is a "cash cow" for the Town generating mountains of revenue, but he said the Town is budgeting the additional revenues for future beach nourishment projects. In the budget they approved earlier that night it’s anticipated the park will bring in around $1.2 million dollars next fiscal year. $350,000 of that is earmarked for shore protection projects.
Chief Bartley said one problem with limiting access is when people leave the park to get supplies and then return to their campsite. Limiting access would cause problems for those individuals at the gate.
Shuttleworth said looking at a reservation system in the long term possibly for next season is a good direction but, "To do that in the middle of the season" is not a good idea.
He said limiting or closing the park would cause taxes to go up for the citizens because the park helps to fund beach nourishment, lifeguards and other expenses.
Councilman Tom Bridges said he was in the park on foot Saturday night over the previous holiday weekend and said it looked like a college frat party because now people can get beer delivered to them in the park.
Shuttleworth said next year the Town could advise people of new rules, but until then they need to take other steps to control litter and other issues within the park.