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The cost of erosion: Freeman Park expected to bring in $1 million less than prior years

Published: Jun. 21, 2021 at 2:36 PM EDT
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CAROLINA BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - For years, the Town of Carolina Beach has brought in millions of dollars through Freeman Park. However, lengthy legal battles with private landowners as well as a battle against mother nature has cost the town.

At its peak, Freeman Park was expected to bring in nearly $2 million to the town back in 2018-2019, but this year, the town has only budgeted roughly $999,000 in revenue – about $1 million less than just a few years ago.

Much of it has to do with the erosion at the North End. Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said the state of the beach forced the town to block off about two-thirds of the area – seriously reducing the number of people who can drive out to the beach – but he said it was a move that needed to be done.

“So our police and fire departments suggested we limit the number of vehicles out there so they are not parked so deep that we could not get emergency vehicles in if there was a need or for our lifeguards to be able to patrol in that area,” he said.

Over the Father’s Day weekend, for example, the park had to close earlier than usual.

“Due to reaching capacity limits and concerns for public safety, Freeman Park is expected to close to new vehicular traffic at 1:30 p.m. today, June 19. Public safety staff will regularly assess the situation to determine if and when the park can safely be reopened or when additional closures are required,” the town wrote in a Facebook post.

And this closing was nothing new. The town has been forced to close early often for the past several years - and that is having an impact on the town’s bottom line - but Shuttleworth says not everything is about money.

“It hasn’t been about the revenue at Freeman Park, it’s about creating a safe and positive experience, and protecting the environment,” he said.

Despite that sentiment, the town has relied on the park for funding. In Fiscal Year 2018-2019, the town’s budget actually predicted the park would bring in more money to the General Fund than sales tax.

But it’s a different story this year. The town’s budget has revenues for the park at $999,103 and sales tax at $1.92 million - the town’s parking revenues have also risen as the park revenues fall.

As far are the legal battles go, the town has been involved in lawsuits brought by private landowners who actually own the majority of the land the park encompasses. Shuttleworth said his ultimate goal would be for the town to buy all of the land from them and turn it into a nature preserve of sorts, but he said the town can’t do it alone.

“We’re hoping the county will help us figure out a way to either acquire it or finance it,” he said.

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