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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Possible alcohol ban proposed for Freeman Park along with restrictions on hours and camping

Property owners at Freeman Park are claiming the town has failed to protect their land and are asking for a Jury Trial to halt all unauthorized activities of their land (Port City Daily/Courtesy Carolina Beach)
Changes are being proposed for Freeman Park in Carolina Beach (Port City Daily/Courtesy Carolina Beach)

CAROLINA BEACH — Major changes could be coming to Freeman Park that would dramatically change how the park operates. Those potential changes including reduced hours, reduced prices, and the elimination of season passes — as well as a ban on one particular (and particularly popular) beach activity.

The news comes after a Tuesday morning Town Council meeting where staff presented leaders with a few options for park changes in 2020.

It’s not unusual for the town to review each previous season’s activities at Freeman Park in order to prepare for the upcoming year, however, the town has faced complications with the park over the past few years that have led to the need for change. According to Interim Town Manager Ed Parvin, town staff has worked internally along with the town’s parking company Lanier Parking, to come up with new suggestions for the park.

Perhaps the most significant change proposed would be the elimination of season passes. This would mean only daily passes would be sold to visitors.

The cost of these daily passes would also change. Currently, passes cost $40 per day and $60 on holidays. Parvin suggested reducing the cost of off-season passes to $20 plus a $50 camping rate. Currently, in order to camp during the offseason October 1 — March 31, visitors must simply have a park pass.

In-season costs would remain $40 and $50 on holidays, a $10 reduction for the latter.

So why such a drastic proposal? Well, this past summer the town faced significant challenges with erosion and overcrowding on the beach prompting the temporary closure of the park. Since so many people had purchased season passes, the town cut off access to daily passes but still had to turn away annual pass holders.

If the town were to remove the sale of annual passes it would remove some of the challenges of closing the park. This past season was particularly challenging because the town did close access and had to turn away those with annual permits who expected to be let onto the park at any time.

Councilman Steve Shuttleworth questioned the impact this major change could have on the town’s bottom line. Since the town operates on a fiscal year, that is, from July 1 — June 31, but the park passes were sold on a January — December basis, tracking the revenues brought in can be confusing.

While he admits there would be a loss in revenue, which for this year was budgeted at $1.9 million, expenses for the park have also gone down, he said. He was also not necessarily in favor of removing the sale of annual passes, but stipulating them with the fact that the town has the right to restrict access to the park at any time, regardless of annual pass status.

“I don’t have a problem selling an anual pass. You go to Disney World you get a pass, it doesn’t say you get on every ride anytime you want,” Shuttleworth said.

Councilwoman LeAnn Pierce was also opposed to the suggestion simply stating, “that’s not going to work.”

Since December of 2018, the town has sold more than 7,000 annual passes making up a significant portion of the revenue from Freeman Park.


New ropes and posts have been installed in Carolina Beach's Freeman Park, but it is not the work of private property owners (Port City Daily photo/JOHANNA FEREBEE)
Changes to camping, hours of operation, and allowing alcohol consumption could all change next year for Freeman Park. (Port City Daily photo/JOHANNA FEREBEE)

Freeman Park is one of the few locations visitors can camp on the beach, but town staff is suggesting some limitations to this as well.

Currently, visitors can camp anytime — in the busy season a reservation along with a $30 fee is required for overnight stays — as noted above, camping during the offseason requires only a paid park pass.

The town has faced some challenges this year because of erosion which has led to the cancellation of multiple camping reservations. Limiting camping to the offseason would also help protect the dunes — a point of contention amongst landowners adjacent to Freeman Park in the past.

The hours of operation could also be changing. In-season, which is from April 1 — Sept. 30, the park would be open from 6 a.m. — 8 p.m., offseason hours would remain 24/7.

This change is suggested due to the challenges the town has faced with staffing and monitoring the entrance of the park 24-hours a day.

Shuttleworth was not keen on closing the park at 8 p.m. in the summer considering the sun does not set until 9 p.m. at times. He suggested going later than 8 p.m.

“The later we go is going to be more challenging for police,” Parvin said.

The final proposal was another significant one, the prohibition of alcohol at the park. This would be in concert with the town’s current regulations on the beach strand that does not allow the consumption of alcohol on the beach at any time.

Freeman Park is one of the few places in New Hanover County where visitors are permitted to drink alcohol on the beach.

Councilmembers seemed to agree that having one set of rules for the entire town, park or not, would be best — but they are willing to hear from the public on the issue.


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