It was a busy year for the once-sleepy beach towns on Pleasure Island, particularly Carolina Beach.
The town has billed itself as the family-friendly seaside destination in New Hanover County and has redone its boardwalk to attract those looking for a classic East Coast beach town vibe. The carnival rides that are set up each summer are also a big hit, but this year a scheduling snag caused the fun fair to leave a week early, leaving the space empty on Labor Day.
That didn’t stop visitors from coming, though. Located in the heart of the town’s central business district, the boardwalk area has become the heart of commerce, anchored by old standbys like Britt’s Donuts while attracting new development such as the Hampton Inn and Suites that broke ground this year.
Town officials will now turn to extending the wooden boardwalk northward, a controversial expansion that was approved by the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission in November after previous bids were retracted and reworked. No timeline for the project has been set yet.
The boardwalk area isn’t the only place in town that’s slated for future development. In August, Carolina Beach Town Council approved a conditional use permit that would bring a Harris Teeter location to the island after it was first approved by the town’s planning and zoning commission in July. The grocery store is planned for the property located at 1000 and 1010 N. Lake Park Boulevard.
There’s also activity on other parts of Lake Park Boulevard, with a Flaming Amy’s scheduled to return to Carolina Beach in early 2016 and the new location of the Pleasure Island Library Branch opening next to Food Lion. Local businesses The Veggie Wagon and Wake N Bake Donuts also had banner years, pushing the envelope by offering innovative products to their loyal hometown customers.
Though construction and development were constants on the island this year, many projects were delayed thanks to the unusually wet weather the region experienced in 2015. Due to its location and elevation, Carolina Beach was heavily affected by various environmental events, particularly in the fall when the town dealt with back-to-back flooding that resulted from the extremely high tides caused by the “super moon” in September followed by Hurricane Joaquin in early October.
While Pleasure Island was one of the hardest hit areas in the county during that weather event, town officials were well prepared, even though some elected officials were in the midst of election campaigns. In Carolina Beach, incumbent Dan Wilcox beat former mayor Bob Lewis, while incumbent Steve Shuttleworth and former councilmember Tom Bridges emerged from a pack of seven candidates to win seats on town council.
Further south on the island, Kure Beach elected a new mayor in the November elections. Town Commissioner Emilie Swearingen defeated incumbent Dean Lambeth, who had been mayor for three terms.
The southern part of the island also unexpectedly welcomed more animals than usual this year, both wild and domesticated. The first North Carolina Corgi Beach Day took place on a Fort Fisher beach in September, and an extremely rare sea turtle made an appearance during an exceptional sea turtle nesting season. The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher was also voted as one of the best in the country by travelers on review site TripAdvisor.
In the northern part of the county, a marine animal also made headlines in Wrightsville Beach this year when a dead great white shark (cause of death still unknown) washed up near Crystal Pier. Before the animal was moved to UNCW for an necropsy, the town’s decorated ocean rescue team got to it first.
Wrightsville Beach was once again a destination for competitors of all kinds this year, from triathletes and marathoners to fat bike riders and paddle boarders and of course, surfers. Though parking still remains an issue, new businesses like The Post Cafe continue to open up in the town.
Despite the spell of wet weather, recent warm temperatures have brought beach goers back out, ensuring that Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach continued their busy year until the very end of 2015.