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Carolina Beach Council Gets Update On Freeman Park Issues

One of many piles of trash and debris left on Sunday morning, Memorial Day weekend. (Photo by: Robbie Johnson) The Council will hold several public hearings at their April 9th meeting regarding banning household furniture, portable human waste devices and additional penalties.

Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council got an update from the Freeman Park Committee at their March 12, meeting regarding trash, camping and portable human waste devices.
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.
The majority of the park is located in the unincorporated area of New Hanover County. In 2004 the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners agreed to enter into an interlocal agreement with the Town of Carolina Beach. That agreement gave the Town authority to provide law enforcement for the area and to adopt ordinances within reason without the need to return to the County for permission.
The reason for establishing the park was to bring order to chaos. People had complained of a lack of law enforcement in the area and enforcement of environmental issues such as using the bathroom in the dunes and driving behind the dune system.
The original fee in 2004 for vehicle access was set at $10 per day and $40 per year. The Town provided trash pickup, portable restrooms, sand fencing to protect the dune system and private properties and eventually added lifeguard patrols. Various ordinances have been adopted to address issues such as camping and fires.
During the Council's March 12, meeting, Freeman Park Committee member Rick Roggie said, "We unanimously agree that we would like to recommend that no couches of any sort should be brought up there any longer and in fact that only beach and camping furniture should be permitted."
He explained, "We laughed and we grumbled about the different aspects of it and we kind of recommended that if someone pulls up in a pickup truck and they've got a couch, they shouldn't be allowed on the beach. They need to just go away and come back without the couch otherwise its going to be an accident and fall off that truck and stay there."
Roggie explained, "We talked about the trash problem. Trash has always been a problem at Freeman Park. Before it was Freeman Park at the North End there were no trashcans at all and there was a lot of trash on the beach. Now we have trashcans and a phenomenal Operations Department that keeps that beach clean and they do a spectacular job but on the big weekends... no matter how many trashcans we have we can't keep up with it."
He explained a few years ago the idea was, "If you pack it in, you pack it out. If you can carry it in full, you can carry it out empty. At this past meeting it was agreed unanimously by everybody on the committee that we really want to give that a try and make a real serious push. You carry it in and you carry it out."
He said, "There were some nice ideas brought up, especially in the early stages of it, that maybe we could provide trash bags for people going in that were not quite prepared for it. And the bags should be sealable because there's going to be some nasty stuff going into those bags. If you have a pickup truck it’s not a big deal but if you have a nice SUV, you really want to seal that bag up. So I would like to recommend that we consider having trash bags at least... for a couple of months to get people to understand."
Roggie explained, "We talked about the fact that some people are just going to leave it there and if that is the case we need to have some stiff fines involved and really take a look at that."
He said, "It's really important... making sure that the word gets out early. If the Council decides to proceed on this... so that people are prepared. It's going to be the shock when people come up and we are going to have to soften that shock with advanced information and maybe some plastic bags to get them in there."
He said another decision that was not unanimous, is a recommendation, "That we would recommend there be no more privately owned port-a-johns" or "Human waste devices" permitted in the park.
Roggie said the Town does a great job and, "I've seen the police do things so well when it could have been so volatile and on many occasions been up there and watched them soften it down and take the problem people and just go away. The number of problem people are a small percentage, but you are always going to get a small percentage and they are doing a really good job in our opinion."
Roggie said the park is a "real jewel" and, "It's providing funding to put sand back on our beach and that is huge because otherwise it’s going to be taxpayers. We've got a wonderful park. If we choke it too hard we will lose the funding. There was a little talk about camping, but there was no clear... recommendation" on continuing to permit camping.
He said, "Not from the committee, but from myself, I would recommend being very careful with what you do about camping. There are a lot of people that come out for that. Maybe if we can't get anything else to work, maybe we consider it down the line but I would be real careful about choking the park and killing it."
The Council has scheduled public hearings at their Tuesday April 9th meeting regarding prohibiting household furniture, human waste containers and to amend penalties for violating park rules.
Councilmember Sarah Friede said the Town could inform people by mailing out information to current annual pass holders.
Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said, "There was some discussion at the Freeman Park Committee meeting about maybe doing a trial period in May where we had no trashcans. Just take the trashcans off" in order to promote the pack it in and pack it out rule.
Shuttleworth said, "The last time we made a change to Freeman Park on the passes, we did it and we got blistered because we didn't have enough of a hearing. We need to make sure we have some notice."
The Council voted in late 2012 to eliminate a discount for annual passes. Previously if you purchased a pass early in the calendar year the cost was $60. After a certain date the cost went up to $100.
The Council voted to eliminate that discount and use the additional funds to help fund future beach nourishment and inlet dredging projects.
One example of volumes of trash left behind in the park happen last summer.
Freeman Park was trashed Sunday morning May 27, 2012, over Memorial Day weekend due to tides, weather and a broken trashcan machine.
Over night the tides washed higher onto the beach due to strong surf conditions and wind. That, combined with light rain, created a situation that drove campers to leave in a hurry.
Carolina Beach Police Chief Kurt Bartley explained, "It drizzled rain a little and the tide came in pretty strong. That morning people started leaving in a hurry. They would just abandon their camps."
Bartley said a trashcan machine used to dump the large trashcans within the park was out of service. He said police officers passed out a few bags to people, gave warnings to others about fines but, "They were leaving so fast there was no way to reach everyone. They were leaving in droves after getting wet." Bartley said the volume of people was understandable due to the holiday weekend. He said an alternate plan was in place for the upcoming July 4th, holiday weekend.
The Town put out additional trashcans in addition to a trailer they have previously positioned within the park to collect refuse.
The Town also obtained a surplus military vehicle that can carry trash. The Town can use backhoes to collect refuse to place in the truck. Bartley said police can issue fines ranging from $50 to $100 to people who don't heed a warning not to leave trash behind.