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Back You are here: Home Opinion Opinion Section Editorials Editorial: Freeman Park Needs Increased Management

Editorial: Freeman Park Needs Increased Management

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

Not to say that Carolina Beach employees don't already work hard towards managing Freeman Park, but if it were a business they would be visibly understaffed.
Freeman Park is located on the north end of Pleasure Island. In 2004 New Hanover County gave the Town permission to manage the area providing police patrols, portable restrooms, trash pickup and protection of the environment. Prior to that agreement there was no management and only a few county sheriff's deputies on holiday weekends.
In the beginning a fee of $10 a day or $40 per year was charged for 4x4 vehicle access. The annual fee is now $100 and brings in a little over a million a year with a portion dedicated to funding future beach nourishment projects.
That's a brief history.
Recently the Mayor and several Council members were frustrated by a lack of visitor respect for the park with litter surrounding makeshift camping areas as well as other related issues.
Many residents have expressed concerns about how some people treat the park. Leaving behind trash and other debris. Some have called for an end to camping in the park. Other residents have mentioned closing it entirely. That's not likely to ever happen.
If Freeman Park were a private business the Town's own zoning code would have kicked in a long time ago for numerous reasons not the least of which is littering. Also, what restaurant on the Island with that size of a parking lot would be permitted to only have a limited number of portable toilets available for thousands of people? None. The Town wouldn't permit it.
This operation is unique. There are very few such parks located on the east coast.
Carolina Beach leaders have for many years been confronted by issues at Freeman Park following holiday weekends. Thousands of people head up there for the big weekends, traffic backed up on Town streets and there's a lot of litter left behind. Yet for the rest of the summer it's largely uneventful. And yes, more people treat the park with respect than the bad apples that leave a mess.  But a few bad apples can make the area unappealing for everyone. Perhaps the Town should consider limiting or prohibiting overnight camping on major holiday weekends. For example, on the July 4th holiday weekend only permit umbrellas and pop up tents without side walls.
If they would like to stay over night, direct them to one of the many fine lodging establishments in Carolina Beach or Kure Beach. They can return the next day. The rest of the year, camping shouldn't be a problem.
It all comes down to "management." And while the Town does a lot to manage the area and maintain a clean environment, the major holiday weekends are similar to a restaurant understaffing itself with customers leaving disgusted at the poor appearance of trash on the floor. Solution, hire more people for peak times.
Contract with companies that manage large events for trash pickup and security.
The police can't possibly be expected to walk around policing everyone for litter and other violations, but a security company with experience in large venues might be better suited to support the desired outcome; a clean park with increased rule compliance.
Currently you can't haul a tent, cooler full of beer and a fire pit (if one is used) out to the beach within Town limits. If you could, we'd likely end up with the same issues and that wouldn't be acceptable nor manageable.
Hiring additional help for holiday weekends is a necessary business expense for this park-business. Handing out a brochure with the rules and telling people not to litter is great, but evidently on major holiday weekends that's not cutting it.
The Council just changed the rules to prohibit people from bringing in mattresses and other home furniture. Memorial Day weekend someone brought a large trampoline.
Marking camping spots is another option. Using weighted plastic traffic barrels to designate camp numbered sites and requiring a deposit returned following inspection would go a long way to ensuring people leave the area as clean as they found it.
Yet that requires additional "management" and there's a cost. But that's the cost of doing business and generating hundreds of thousands of dollars for future beach nourishment projects.
If not, it won't be long before other groups start banging the environmental drums and then it's a whole new set of issues to deal with. See you after July 4th!