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Council Concerned About Freeman Park Litter Over Holiday Weekend

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 on Monday to pick up trash and speak with the public.

Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council took notice of issues at busy Freeman Park over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. In particular the litter left on the beach.
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.
On Sunday May 26, Councilman Steve Shuttleworth went on a morning sea turtle nest patrol within the park. Shuttleworth explained later, " We didn't find any turtle nests this morning. We did see first hand the terrible mess on the north end. I am amazed at how rude and disrespectful visitors and guests camping in Freeman Park are. It was disheartening to see such disregard for the environment. Trash, open fire pits, half burnt wood, piles of junk even a trampoline, loads of bottles and cans. We have to get this turned around. It’s enough to really [tick] you off!"
Shuttleworth posted numerous photos of the outing showing littered areas.
Traffic in the park was dense over the holiday weekend. Camping was restricted by a large pipe serving the ongoing beach renourishment project pumping sand from the Carolina Beach Inlet south to areas along the beachfront.
Sand was placed atop sections of the pipe to permit the public to walk over towards the ocean.
There were reports over the weekend that police had closed the park at one time due to lack of room for more visitors. That was not the case. In fact, at times they would stop vehicles leaving the park to permit two lanes of vehicles to enter. That helped to alleviate traffic backing up on Canal Drive. Then police would stop vehicles from entering to allow two lanes of vehicles to exit the park. That method of traffic control was productive and only used at peak times.
Many people commented on Facebook posts by Shuttleworth and others.
Former Carolina Beach Town Councilman Gary Doetsch explained, "I have always supported the park and unlimited use as long as people respect and take care of it. Maybe it's
time to put restrictions in place including no camping and hours that the park is to [be] closed. It is a shame that a few cause a problem for all but it is clear you have issues that must be resolved."
Nancy Busovne from the Pleasure Island Sea Turtle project commented, "I am looking forward to being part of the solution to this problem. We simply cannot go through the rest of the summer with this situation up there. We have worked too hard to bill ourselves as a family friendly island to allow this kind of lawlessness up there. It is shameful."
She explained the Town can work to get it under control by pushing for a better system and more law enforcement to prevent more serious situations from occurring.
Mayor Bob Lewis commented, "Fortunately our town council has the same passion to work together with our community to identify and implement solutions. We continue to work on ways to make our community including Freeman
Park a safe place for everyone to enjoy. We are also very concerned about the environmental impact that the human race leaves behind on our beaches and deposited in our oceans."
Local resident Barbara Jackson Tillison explained, "Limiting the number of camping spots and vehicles is the first place to start....When we were out there Saturday evening it was utter chaos and we could hardly get a bobcat through and forget the water side, it was impossible. When the tide came in higher than these people had any idea of they all scrambled
to move and/or leave. What resulted was no one going anywhere. The park was extremely over crowded it looked worse than the fields at Woodstock."
Lewis, Shuttleworth and Council members Jody Smith and Tom Bridges met with people on Monday afternoon to visit the area with trash bags in hand to help clean up.
They spoke with locals and people visiting from out of Town getting positive input on how to improve the situation.
Shuttleworth said the Council will discuss the issue at their upcoming June 11, meeting. He said steps have to be taken to improve the situation. Closing the park or drastically reducing activities could reduce the nearly $1 million in revenues the Town collects each year. $350,000 is budgeted separately for beach nourishment projects to help offset the cost to taxpayers.
Following the visit to the park on Monday afternoon Shuttleworth explained, "The crowd at Freeman Park had thinned out by 3 pm when we had an impromptu mini beach sweep. While we picked up trash it was nothing compared to yesterday morning. Happy to report the vast majority of our visitors are responsible and left our Island tidy.
Those that didn't were in the minority. The town has additional opportunities to help improve the situation. More trash receptacles, recycling containers maybe some ash cans for fire coals and debris. Limiting camping and numbers are being discussed too. Please share your solutions with council. Big thanks to Town operations, police fire and ocean rescue!"