Residents Offer Input On Freeman Park Management

Residents Offer Input On Freeman Park Management Featured

By / Local News / Wednesday, 24 September 2014 04:00

Michelle Gautier took this photo earlier this month. People will leave just about anything behind when they leave Freeman Park. This time, a drum set.

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CAROLINA BEACH - A crowd of approximately 40 people attended a meeting Thursday September 18th to voice their opinions on management of Freeman Park at the North End of Carolina Beach. The Town Council and Freeman Park Committee held a joint meeting to hear public input. Topics included camping, traffic, alcohol consumption, litter and other issues.
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.
According to a release from the Town encouraging people to attend the meeting, "Freeman Park is a huge attraction for the Town of Carolina Beach. Given the large crowds we need to periodically review park policies and ways to keep Freeman Park safe and clean for community, and still accommodate our visitors."
The purpose of the meeting was to use public input to determine ways to better improve park management in a manner that will provide a positive experience at the park for locals and visitors alike.
Prior to the meeting Town Councilman Steve Shuttleworth commented to a citizen on Facebook stating, "I have been thinking along time about increasing the volume when voicing my concerns related to Freeman Park. As you know I kicked the ant pile last year on Memorial Day about the amount of trash and people and condition they left our environment in . That  sparked some changes but not nearly enough! We had some good in put but not great fall up. In the past year we have been able to get the hatteras ramp installed including permission to place a dumpster at the end. That should help provide our visitors a place to leave their trash rather than on the darn beach. We have also added ash can containers so people can place their fire pit remains somewhere other than just burying it in the sand. We got permission for the 1st time ever to use the beach rake for 2 days after every major holiday and additionally once a month on the North End. That was a huge victory but not the end all to be all."
Shuttleworth explained, "Other Issues I have been pushing, and the Freeman Park Committee have been asking for, is more enforcement of current" rules, "Unfortunately I' not sure these will be enough to solve the problems. I'm thinking we could create a reservation system and limit the number of campers. If they have to make a reservation and leave a deposit perhaps they would be more responsible. We may have to look at even stopping over night camping on major weekends, or during the summer in total. Maybe a day park only like the South End. Call me crazy but they don't seem to have the same problems down there as we do. No fires no camping? Another option is to limit the number of visitors/vehicles each day. This is done across the country at other parks why not here? We could easily start by handing out 55 gallon trash bags to each vehicle as it enters the park and encourage them to pack it in pack it out! Leave no trace! I know these may not be popular but I can't sit by and watch the continued derogation of our natural environment."
Shuttleworth explained, "Dogs on the beach. I want to be able to take my dog to the beach to run. I am a responsible pet owner. I'm tired of feeling like a rule breaker just to throw a ball to my dog. I want to get an area designated a dog area year round. Or perhaps on the beach until 9:30 am and from 7-10 pm? Something. Many communities in the country have dog friendly beach areas. Let me know what you think. Your "rule breaker dog owner" councilmen."
The cost of the season permit is $100 from January 1 to December 31.    Discounted season permits may be purchased at $60 from December 1, to December 31. Daily passes may be purchased for $20 at the entrance of Freeman Park.  Seven day passes are available for $50.
Feedback from citizens included:
Under Environmental Stweardship:
Damage to natural resources:
• Increase fees
• Continue education
• Increase fines
Protecting the beach for turtles/wildlife:
• Remove camping/alcohol
• Allow only walk-on visitors (no vehicles)
Use of beach rake:
• Rake larger area of park vs. only zones 1-6
• Better maintenance and more training for staff
Digging holes on the beach:
• Create ordinance banning hole digging (similar to one in Emerald Isle)
Litter on the beach:
• give everyone that enters the park a trash bag
• have visitors carry out trash vs. having 250 trash cans
Traffic Congestion:
Difficulties getting in/out of properties near park:
• Do not block crosswalks/intersections
• Close park to vehicles; allow walk-on only
• Limit the number of visitors/vehicles allowed in park
• Post “park closed” or “full” signs at/before bridge
Disabled vehicles:
• Do not allow anything but 4-wheel drive vehicles (no AWD allowed)
Pedestrians using vehicle Hatteras ramp:
• Do not allow pedestrians on ramp
• Limit foot traffic entering park
• Close park at 10PM/shut gates (lockdown)
• Limit number of visitors allowed in park
• Require visitors to purchase pass before arriving (none sold at gate)
Need rate increase:
• Increase rates; daily and annual: $50 daily/$150 annual
• $40 daily
• Give discounts only in December
• Give discounts for only two weeks in December
• Discount rate increased to $75 annual fee
• Charge different/additional rates for fishing or camping
• Block/ban 5 day passes during holidays
• Stop selling 5 day passes
• Charge per head/visitor
• Charge more for larger vehicles
Traffic/Congestion causing property values to decrease:
• Analysis is needed
Intoxicated/drunk drivers:
• Increase enforcement vs. educational for all violations
• DUI checkpoints
“Party animal mentality”/underage drinking:
• Eliminate beer deliveries
• Allow beer and wine only
• Ban alcohol consumption at park
• Feedback for officers working in park
Burying fire wood causes vehicle tire damage:
• Eliminate camp fires
• Supply fire boxes
• Install more concrete burn barrels
• Enforce existing fire ordinances
Dogs on beach:
• Restrict areas dogs are allowed
Too many campers:
• Allow camping only on west side of park, not at water
• Establish reservation system
• Allow only 1 tent per permit
• Limit the number of people allowed at each campsite
• Establish Camping Fee –additional $25 a night per tent
• Offer discounts for reserving camping pass online
• Eliminate camping completely
• Designate a limited number of camping sites
• Limit types of facilities campers are allowed
• Set up permanent fire pits
• Control walk-on campers
• Operate more like a State Park
• Enforce camping ordinances
More trash with campers:
• Supply trash bags
• Campers must remove/take trash with them when they leave
Define camping:
• need definition of what camping is (overnight?)
Late night partying :
• Park hours similar to south end
• Close park at 10PM or 11PM
Number of days campers are staying:
• Enforce/limit
Homeless people
• Do not allow homeless to “live” at park
Driving below tide line:
• Enforce rules
• Close areas of park due to extreme high tides
People riding in truck beds:
• Do not allow persons to ride in truck beds
Displays of controversial/offensive flags:
• Do not allow these flags in park
Education of Public:
• Educate visitors by providing brochures/handouts at hotels and other tourist locations
Arson/fires in homes near park:
• Keep homeless out of park.
Betty Phelps, owner of the Carolina Beach Fishing Pier just south of the park said raising rates may help. She said, "I don't think there is another place you can go as a family and pay as cheap as you pay to go out on the North End. These are way, way to low. I think we would get less people coming down. More quality people coming down."
She said giving visitors trash bags at the gate would help with litter and having an officer at the gate will make people think twice because an authority figure is present. She said, "We have come a long ways and are very fortunate to have it and I think we should start taking care of it." She said compared to hotel rooms and campgrounds in general, being able to take a family to the park to camp for $20 a day is extremely cheap.
Mayor Dan Wilcox said limiting the number of people in the park is a daunting task. He said, "People say don't let anymore people in the park; cut it off at a certain point in time. Then where do you put that line of traffic that's coming in from Raleigh... where do all of those vehicles go? The people already in the park. The man, wife and kids are setup, he wants to leave and go get some ice from the store and can't get back in. Talk about a traffic problem, cutting it off at the gate most likely is going to create a concrete parking lot."
Councilman Shuttleworth said he wanted to hear input on restricting the number of campers, reservations and no alcohol.
The audience applauded when he mentioned restrictions on camping and a reservation system.
Local resident Robbie Johnson lives on Virginia Avenue in the area near the gate to Freeman Park. He explained, "I know a lot about that North End because I've been living there since 1973."
Johnson said one issue is traffic on Canal Drive causing extreme congestion blocking residential streets and holding residents hostage at times during the summer months. He explained, "If you don't live there... it's not pretty" and, "My daughter goes to school at the University of South Carolina, works at Britt's during the summer. She's trying to get home from work and couldn't get across Canal Drive to get on Virginia Avenue." He had to ride his bike to Canal to stop vehicles to allow her to drive across the road to get home.
He said the money generated from selling passes is obviously important to the Town, but something has to be done to limit the number of vehicles in the park. He said he believes the Town could still net $300,000 if they reduced the number of vehicles allowed in the park by some method because with a reduction of visitors, the expenses would also decrease.
Johnson said, "On busy weekends, it's a disgrace what's happening out there" in terms of litter and abuse of the park environment. He said designated camping spaces and holding people responsible for those areas would help with littering problems.
He said another problem is people parking in front of people's homes along area residential streets and walking or hitching a ride into the park leaving homeowners with cars lined up and down their streets.
The Town Council, Freeman Park Committee and staff are examining the multitude of comments received during the workshop meeting and may make changes to park rules prior to the sale of vehicle passes for next season which typically begins just before the Christmas holiday season during the first week in December. 
Local resident Gina Benton said she would like to see a return to no camping and no fires within the park like it used to be years ago. A 31-year resident, she said people use to enjoy taking a day to visit the North End for fishing, swimming and hanging out with friends. She said, "I think limiting camping is not a big deal" because the Town already has zones marked within the park and could draw upon camping requirements used at the nearby Carolina Beach State Park which has a reservation system.
She said raising fees would help because Freeman Park is known around the region as a cheap place to come and party.


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