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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

A soft opening of the beach? Carolina Beach leaders discuss it

Phillip Murray, who sat with the group pictured in center, said he drove from Raleigh to Carolina Beach even though family and friends had expressed concern. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Phillip Murray, who sat with the group pictured in the center, said he drove from Raleigh to Carolina Beach even though family and friends had expressed concern. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

CAROLINA BEACH — When the Town of Carolina Beach (along with other beach towns across the state) closed access to the beaches due to Covid-19, it did so largely in an effort to stop visitors from other, more densely populated cities from visiting.

The move drew ire from residents of the beach towns and neighboring counties, with the common sentiment that the governor’s orders encourage residents to get outside and exercise — something that could be done at the beach. However, as seen prior to towns issuing beach closures, it was not exercise that people were heading to the beaches for.

Instead, spring breakers and other visitors soaked up the sun while failing to adhere to social distancing recommendations, posing what local officials called a significant health risk to residents of these tourist towns.

While beach towns took the first steps to limit access to the beaches, New Hanover County quickly followed suit and issued beach closure notices countywide.

Those county orders that closed the beaches are set to expire at the end of the month, and if they are not extended, the Town of Carolina Beach is working to determine the best way to reopen the beaches.

A soft opening is one option suggested by Town Manager Bruce Oakley and Mayor LeAnn Pierce.

Since the threat of the coronavirus is not yet over, social distancing guidelines will likely be in place for some time. But the town is looking at ways to reopen and welcome the public back to the beaches.

“We have been going back and forth for a while about what we could do. We have talked about opening it mainly for exercise only, outdoor recreation which the governor’s order does encourage of course, keeping in place social distancing and not allowing 10 or more [people] … We have discussed possibly opening up certain accesses and maybe still restricting parking so we don’t have an influx from further inland to access our beaches,” Oakley said during a Town Council meeting Tuesday evening.

So things like surfing and running on the beaches would likely be permitted, however, sunbathing and just sitting on the beach would still be prohibited.

One of the most common questions the town has heard about the beach closures is along the lines of, ‘why can’t I walk on the beach if I can walk in a park and get exercise outside,’ which is a fair question, but it does not have to do with the safety of a park versus the beach.

“I think that is probably one of the biggest questions we’ve had, ‘why can’t I walk on the beach?’ And for the public, it’s not about that it is any less safe to be on the beach, we know that, it’s that it is an attraction and it would draw so many people here from all over and that is what we have to be careful of,” Pierce said.

The impact of closing the beaches is a significant one in a town that relies so heavily on tourism, but it will ultimately come down to the county’s decisions at the end of the month to determine whether or not the town can reopen its beaches.

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