Currituck seeks to limit beach parking permits

Published 4:43 pm Wednesday, March 30, 2022

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In an effort increase the safety and general enjoyment of beachgoers, Currituck County is beginning step one of a multi-step process to reduce the number of people driving on the beach.

County manager Ike McRee laid out the plan to commissioners Monday, March 21 to limit beach parking permits for visitors to 300 per week. He stated that, if the amendment passes, this is the only change visitors will notice this year; everything else will remain the same.

For residents and property owners, they will continue to display their Currituck County Solid Waste decal or “convenience center decal” provided with their tax bill as their parking permit; the sticker also serves to allow these individuals back onto the island following a storm evacuation event. “This will simplify the process for residents and property owners, who won’t have to obtain and keep up with separate permits for beach parking or re-entry,” said public information officer Randall Edwards.

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For visitors renting a house in the 4WD area of Currituck, weekly permits will most likely continue to be arranged by the property management company and will be included in the price of the rental. Those affected the most will be the day trippers to the beach, Edwards expects.

Driving on the beach will still be open to anyone, but those wanting to park their car and make a day of it at the shore may be turned away if the 300-permit threshold has been reached.

The permitting process is more automated this year. Visitors must fill out the application online and then go to the Visitor’s Center in Corolla with the $50 application fee to pick up the permit. Permits will have the week number displayed in large digits and will be valid from Saturday to Saturday. The 10-day and seasonal permits will no longer be issued.

Limiting permits to 300 will cut down on the amount of vehicular traffic on the beach. Last year, there were 9,106 10-day permits issued; and 517 seasonal permits. In 2020, that number was even higher, with 10-day permits totaling 10,408 and 626 seasonal permits. If this ordinance amendment is passed, 300 weekly permits from April through October 1 would amount to about 7,000 in total.

According to Edwards, Corolla residents have been asking commissioners for help for quite a while. “The number of vehicles [on the beach] is getting a little out of control,” said Edwards. “People park on the beach, there are kids running around. Commissioners are doing this to improve public safety. They didn’t want it to get to the point where it wasn’t an enjoyable experience to come to the beach. It’ll also help protect the natural environment, the dunes, and the wild horses. There have been instances – not a lot, thankfully – but horses have been hit by vehicles.”

Additionally, those seeking to drive utility-terrain vehicles (UTVs) or side-by-sides on the beach will also be required to receive a permit from the county; whereas the previous ordinance only specified permits for all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). These permits are limited to county residents and property owners only and are specifically for the region north of the Currituck line to Virginia state line. To clarify, McRee said, “The ATV program that everybody has become accustomed to is not changing in any way [regarding] the [beach parking] section I just spoke about.”

Commissioner Kevin McCord asked if a vacationer from out of state would be permitted to bring their ATV to ride on the beach. McRee affirmed that there would be no change to the rules and ATV and UTV permits are available only to residents and property owners.

To change a county ordinance, it must be read and voted on at two meetings. Commissioners approved the first vote 4-1 (Chairman Mike Payment, Vice-Chairman Paul Beaumont, commissioners Bob White and Selina Jarvis approving; commissioner McCord opposing; commissioners Owen Etheridge and Kitty Etheridge absent). The ordinance will be voted on at the next commissioners meeting on April 4. County staff expect it to pass, and permits for the entire season will be available online through the county website on a first come, first serve basis starting April 5.

Edwards said that commissioners will reevaluate the changes at the end of the season and make adjustments if necessary. Though not a consideration for this year, commissioners have considered other options for beach safety, including limiting the number of cars on the beach.