State of the Beach/State Reports/NC/Beach Access

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North Carolina Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access108
Water Quality67
Beach Erosion10-
Erosion Response-7
Beach Fill7-
Shoreline Structures5 8
Beach Ecology5-
Surfing Areas38
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


North Carolina Division of Coastal Management (NCDCM) has responsibilities for ensuring public access of ocean beaches and other public trust waters under the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) and North Carolina Administrative Codes. The Coastal Area Management Act and information on the beach access grant program in North Carolina can be viewed online.

The state's position regarding beach ownership is that although state ownership ends at the mean high water line, the public has always enjoyed the right to use the full width and breadth of the state's ocean beaches seaward of the dune line, under the common law theories of customary use since "time immemorial," the public trust doctrine, implied dedication, or, alternatively, prescriptive use. Therefore, the state has asked the courts to declare that the public is legally entitled to use the entire beach between the ocean and the vegetation or dune line.

North Carolina's beach laws state, in part:

"The public having made frequent, uninterrupted, and unobstructed use of the full width and breadth of the ocean beaches of this State from time immemorial...the right of the people to the customary free use and enjoyment of the ocean beaches...are a part of the common heritage of the State."

In an order issued in October 2005, the state appeals court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit by a group of Currituck County property owners who claimed the public has no rights to the area seaward of the beach vegetation line. That area, commonly called the "dry sand beach," has traditionally been public domain in North Carolina. Although the ruling upheld the state's position, it focused on procedure and did not address broader issues of state and private property rights in the contested beach terrain.

In August 2006 it was announced that the dispute might go before the North Carolina Supreme Count. Currituck County joined with the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners and the Ocean Hill I Property Owners Association in asking the Supreme Court to hear a lawsuit over whether two roads leading to the beach should be private or public. The Villages at Ocean Hill Community Association, among others, filed the original suit contending the roads should be open. In October 2006 it was announced that the North Carolina Supreme Court had agreed to rule on this case.

In January 2011 Emerald Isle Town manager Frank Rush announced that six beach accesses on Ocean View Drive would remain open for the public as a result of information he received from the N.C. Attorney General’s Office. “Based on the state attorney general’s opinion, there’s nothing that changes things and the town will continue to maintain the access from here on out,” said Mr. Rush. In March 2010, after town attorney Richard Stanley researched the matter, the town took responsibility of the beach accesses, paid for the repairs, posted regional beach access signs, installed trash cans and had staff of the town’s parks and recreation department maintain the accesses. Mr. Stanley’s research revealed that the original subdivision for these three subdivisions didn’t indicate that the streets or walkways were reserved for private use, but the plat did indicate a narrow strip of beach that was supposedly reserved for the private use of the subdivision residents. But because the beach is public, it cannot be reserved for private use — further hindering the argument that those walkways were private.

In October 2012 a state Supreme Court decision to dismiss an appeal by Nags Head has left the town and other coastal communities in a quandary over what they can and can't do to regulate activity on public trust beaches. For over two years, the town has battled property owners in South Nags Head, where erosion had placed homes in the public trust area between mean high water and the toe of the dune line. Nags Head has long contended that the houses pose a threat to public safety and if they eventually fall into the ocean, debris will endanger swimmers and other property. A house owned by Cherry Inc. that was severely damaged by a 2009 nor’easter was at the center of the town’s court actions. A Superior Court judge agreed that the town had the authority to declare the structure a nuisance and order it to be removed or torn down. In February 2012, the North Carolina Court of Appeals overturned the Superior Court decision, declaring the state, not the town, had jurisdiction over public trust beaches. The decision by the Supreme Court leaves the Appeals Court decision intact. More info.

The Division of Coastal Management awards matching grants to local governments to establish public access sites. The N.C. General Assembly established the Public Beach and Coastal Waterfront Access Program in 1981 by amending CAMA to provide the matching grants to local governments for oceanfront beach access areas. In 1983, the legislature expanded the program to include estuarine beaches and waterways. More than 280 access sites have been constructed since the program began. Local governments are responsible for construction, operation and long-term maintenance of their sites. Coastal Management awarded grants totaling approximately $2.9 million to 19 local governments for 23 public-access projects in during the 2007-08 fiscal year.

Information on the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and other programs is available via the NCDENR Division of Parks and Recreation Website.

The Carteret County Shore Protection Office has written a nice primer The Public Beach - A Quick Look at Lines in the Sand.

An interesting discussion of the legal rights of oceanfront property owners as they relate to beach fill projects, coastal erosion and public access can be found in the Winter/Spring 2005, Summer/Fall 2005 and Summer/Fall 2006 editions of Legal Tides, a publication from the new North Carolina Coastal Resources Law, Planning and Policy Center.

NCDCM staff reported in late 2006 that the NC Legislature had recently established a legislative committee to look into the issue of the recent loss of access to coastal waters (e.g., closing of coastal fishing piers, campgrounds, etc.) for recreational activities.

Beach driving in North Carolina is not regulated by the Division of Coastal Management, but is primarily controlled either by local governments (at the town level, or county level in the case of Currituck Co.), by the NC Division of Parks and Recreation (e.g., at the Fort Fisher state park beach), or the National Park Service (e.g., at Cape Hatteras National Seashore). Most towns only permit beach driving between approximately Oct. 1 and April 30. This is primarily to protect bird and sea turtle nests from vehicular traffic during their nesting season. Some beaches have year-round access, however. Many towns also require off-roaders to pay a fee and place a sticker on their vehicle. Driving on the dunes is not allowed on any NC beaches.

Many of the Outer Banks beaches are open to beach driving at least part of the year. The Outer Banks tourism Website lists beach driving rules here.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore generally allows beach driving year-round, although driving is now prohibited in some locations and at some times of the year. The NPS has recently developed an ORV management plan and special regulation to preserve the unique plants and wildlife of this dynamic barrier island ecosystem while permitting the carefully managed use of vehicles on designated ORV routes at the seashore. The special regulation became effective on February 15, 2012. The special regulation requires visitors to have an ORV special use permit to operate a vehicle on the designated ORV routes at the seashore. See their website or this one for more information on regulations.

As part of the lawsuit-driven management plan discussed in more detail below, the National Park Service announced in January 2012 that beginning February 15, 2012 that rules designed to limit beach access and protect the environment will require drivers to pay between $90 and $150 for an annual permit, with a weekly permit going for about one-third of that. Visitors also will be required to watch a seven-minute educational video at one of the designated visitor centers. In addition, the Park Service is making 26 miles along the 67-mile-long seashore permanently off-limits as of Feb. 15, when the new rules kick in. It's the first permanent ban of stretches of beach in the park.

In July 2007 U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle issued an order which stated that because Cape Hatteras National Seashore did not have regulations to govern off-road vehicle (ORV) traffic, operating a vehicle on the seashore "without prior authority" was punishable by fines up to $5,000 and six months in prison. In response, a spokesperson for Cape Hatteras stated that with the exception of isolated closures for natural resource protection and pedestrian safety, ORV traffic would be allowed on the seashore while attorneys for the National Park Service reviewed the court order.

In February 2008, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), along with Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society asked a federal judge to limit beach driving on approximately 12 percent of the seashore identified by the Park Service's scientists as being most critical to nesting shorebirds. SELC asked the judge to halt driving on this portion of beach pending the outcome of a suit SELC filed in October 2007.

That suit seeks to require the Park Service to implement a plan to manage beach driving that will also protect the resources of the region. The goal is development of a management plan that will continue to allow access to Hatteras by vehicle, but will control use to protect wildlife, safety and the overall environment of the Outer Banks.

The Outer Banks Chapter of Surfrider Foundation is one of the parties working to achieve a balanced resolution of the beach driving issue at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The chapter has issued the following statement:

“The Outer Banks Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation recognizes the unique ecological, recreational and economic value of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. We further recognize that beaches are a public resource and should be held in the public trust for their preservation. We understand that for decades the Park Service has allowed access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches by Off Road Vehicles (ORV) with minimal restriction or oversight and that if not regulated correctly ORV use may detrimentally affect migratory species that nest in the area. The Outer Banks Chapter supports beach preservation and protection efforts, but feels that a temporary and or permanent ban on ORV access to these beaches could have an immediate detrimental impact on the Outer Banks economy, and severely limit public access to groups that appreciate, use, and support the protection of these coastal resources. We believe that a balance between access and preservation can be achieved.

It is difficult for one that has not spent significant time on the Outer Banks to consider how limited access to beaches would become without ORV use, access that is the very reason that people from all over the world come to the Outer Banks to visit. In our small community where much of the oceanfront has been developed by homes, this small stretch of National Park is truly one of the last protected places to enjoy the unique resources on Hatteras Island. Hatteras Island offers world class surfing and fishing, much of which can be attributed to its remote location that is accessible only by ORVs. At this time the Outer Banks Chapter of Surfrider Foundation believes that allowing continued access with improved management of ORV use to the National Seashore is the optimal solution for this area.

The Outer Banks Chapter implores all parties involved in this issue to find a balance between access, protection and preservation. We recommend managing access of these areas through a combination of permitting, limiting the number of vehicles, and closures when necessary to protect the migratory species that use this area seasonally. The Outer Banks Chapter of Surfrider Foundation supports protection and preservation, and in this unique situation does support the reasonable use of Off Road Vehicles to allow public access this area.”

A tentative agreement settling the lawsuit was announced on April 16, 2008. The settlement allows driving on large areas of beach, but seasonally restricts vehicle use in several spots popular with both birds and fishermen. The settlement details areas to be restricted in 2008 to protect bird and turtle nesting areas. Among its requirements: bird nesting areas can't be made smaller to accommodate vehicles if erosion cuts off vehicle access. The park service, by March 15 of each year, must mark nesting areas on Bodie Island Spit, Cape Point, South Beach, Hatteras Spit, North Ocracoke and Ocracoke South Point. The park service must also set aside specific protection buffers around nesting areas for plover, the least tern, the oystercatcher and other waterbirds. The vehicle buffer is 1,000 meters for plover chicks, the highest level of protection. Officials also have the authority to expand the protected areas if they believe there has been vandalism of fencing, nests or plants. To protect turtles, the park service must close beaches to night driving between of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. from May 1 to Sept. 15 and allow night driving only under educational permits between Sept. 16 and Nov. 15. On April 30, 2008 U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle approved the settlement (Consent Decree) after receiving additional information from Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent Mike Murray.

A further development on this issue was the introduction of legislation in the U.S. Congress in June 2008 to nullify the consent decree and reinstate the interim plan on ORV use that existed prior to the Consent Decree. See here and here. The bill, which was supported by ORV access advocates, was ultimately opposed by the National Park Service and rejected by a U.S. Senate committee. The deputy director of the National Park Service testified before Congress in September 2008 stating that “the consent decree will accomplish [the] objective” of allowing public use and access to the national seashore’s beaches to the greatest extent possible while still protecting the park’s wildlife “better than the original 2007 Interim Management Strategy.” Despite this testimony, a similar bill to invalidate the consent decree and resort back to the less effective interim management strategy was re-introduced in August 2009.

In November 2008 NPS Superintendent Mike Murray announced that information about off-road vehicle (ORV) management alternatives being considered by the National Park Service (NPS) for Cape Hatteras National Seashore had been provided to the Seashore’s ORV management negotiated rulemaking advisory committee. The information is also available to the public and has been uploaded to the PEPC website, under ORV Management Plan project, entitled 2008 11Nov 05 – ORV EIS Alternatives.

In March 2010 the NPS released a Draft ORV Management Plan/EIS (DEIS) that "evaluates the impacts of several alternatives for regulations and procedures that would carefully manage ORV use/access in the Seashore to protect and preserve natural and cultural resources and natural processes, to provide a variety of visitor use experiences while minimizing conflicts among various users, and to promote the safety of all visitors."

NPS released their Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Off-Road Vehicle Management Plan in November 2010. On December 20, 2010 NPS announced the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Final EIS for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Off-Road Vehicle Management Plan had been approved. The ROD documents the decision by the NPS to implement Alternative F, the NPS Preferred Alternative.

In early February 2012 the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance (CHAPA) filed a lawsuit against the federal government agencies in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in an effort to stop the Park Service from implementing its off-road vehicle management plan and ORV final rule, which became effective on February 15. Here is an Update on ORV Management Plan for Cape Hatteras National Seashore from the National Park Service.

In February 2013 U.S. Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina reintroduced a bill in the House of Representatives that seeks to overturn both the National Park Service’s final rule for off-road vehicles on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and a court-approved consent decree that settled a lawsuit filed against the Park Service by environmental groups. The "Preserving Access to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area Act" would return management of seashore resources to the Interim Protected Species Management Strategy and Environmental Assessment, issued by the Park Service on June 13, 2007. The bill was scheduled for a hearing before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation in March 2013. H.R. 819 is identical to H.R. 4094, which Congressman Jones introduced in 2012. That bill passed the House of Representatives, but the Senate version failed to make it out of committee. In June 2013 it was announced that an amended version of SB 486 (originally introduced by U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., along with Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C) had been passed unanimously by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. More on this compromise legislation.

In December 2014 the U.S. Senate passed the $585 billion National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 89 to 11. Attached to the bill and also passed is a public lands package of bills, one of which includes some significant changes to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore's Off-Road Vehicle Plan. The House of Representatives previously easily passed the bill. The Cape Hatteras legislation instructs the Secretary of Interior to review and adjust wildlife protection buffers, keep them in place the shortest possible duration to protect a species, designate vehicle and pedestrian corridors around resource closures, and confer with the state of North Carolina on certain buffers and protections. It also makes other modifications to the final ORV plan, such as conducting a public process to consider such changes as the earlier opening of beaches that are closed at night during the summer, extending seasonal ORV routes in the fall and spring, and modifying the size and location of vehicle-free areas. The Secretary of the Interior must report to the Congress within a year on the measures taken to implement the legislation. Following is the text of the legislation:


(a) DEFINITIONS.—In this section:
(1) FINAL RULE.—The term ‘‘Final Rule’’means the final rule entitled ‘‘Special Regulations, Areas of the National Park System, Cape Hatteras National Seashore—Off-Road Vehicle Management’’(77 Fed. Reg. 3123 (January 23, 2012)).
(2) NATIONAL SEASHORE.—The term ‘‘National Seashore’’ means the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area.
(3) SECRETARY.—The term ‘‘Secretary’’ means the Secretary of the Interior.
(4) STATE.—The term ‘‘State’’ means the State of North Carolina.

(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall review and modify wildlife buffers in the National Seashore in accordance with this subsection and any other applicable law.
(2) BUFFER MODIFICATIONS.—In modifying wildlife buffers under paragraph (1), the Secretary shall, using adaptive management practices—
(A) ensure that the buffers are of the shortest duration and cover the smallest area necessary to protect a species, as determined in accordance with peer-reviewed scientific data; and
(B) designate pedestrian and vehicle corridors around areas of the National Seashore closed because of wildlife buffers, to allow access to areas that are open.
(3) COORDINATION WITH STATE.—The Secretary, after coordinating with the State, shall determine appropriate buffer protections for species that are not listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), but that are identified for protection under State law.

(c) MODIFICATIONS TO FINAL RULE.—The Secretary shall undertake a public process to consider, consistent with management requirements at the National Seashore, the following changes to the Final Rule:
(1) Opening beaches at the National Seashore that are closed to night driving restrictions, by opening beach segments each morning on a rolling basis as daily management reviews are completed.
(2) Extending seasonal off-road vehicle routes for additional periods in the Fall and Spring if offroad vehicle use would not create resource management problems at the National Seashore.
(3) Modifying the size and location of vehicle free areas.

(d) CONSTRUCTION OF NEW VEHICLE ACCESS POINTS.—The Secretary shall construct new vehicle access points and roads at the National Seashore—
(1) as expeditiously as practicable; and
(2) in accordance with applicable management plans for the National Seashore.

(e) REPORT.—The Secretary shall report to Congress within 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act on measures taken to implement this section."

A good source for current information on the beach access situation at Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches is the Beach Access Issues page from Island Free Press.

Site Inventory

According to Pogue P. and Lee V., 1999, "Providing Public Access to the Shore: The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs," Coastal Management 27:219-237 the percentage of publicly owned shoreline in North Carolina is unknown. NCDCM staff estimates that approximately 40% of coastal lands are publicly owned. They also estimate, however, that about 95% of "private" beaches are publicly accessible.[1]

This same document identifies 211 public access sites. This corresponds to about one public access site for every 16 miles of shoreline. NCDCM staff estimates are substantially different. They indicate that there are coastal access points about every one-half mile in urban areas and every two miles in rural areas.[2]

Surfrider reported in previous State of the Beach reports that the total number of public beach access points is 268, which tend to be clustered around population centers. The National Seashore provides additional access sites, and local governments provide over 400 additional water access sites. Some local governments charge for parking, but DCM requires them to use those fees towards maintenance of the access site.[3]

The North Carolina Shore & Beach Preservation Association (NCSBPA) and NCDCM announced on November 18, 2002 a new joint initiative to fully map all of North Carolina's public beach accessways. A survey conducted by NCSBPA and NCDCM in 2003 and 2004 identified 550 public access points, 6,256 parking spaces at lots and street ends, and 43 restroom facilities along the state's ocean beaches. In the survey, Emerald Isle led other coastal communities in access points with 68 sites. Sunset Beach averaged the most access points per mile -- 17 sites per mile. Following Sunset Beach were Wrightsville Beach (10.9 sites per mile), Carolina Beach (8.1 sites per mile) and Oak Island (7.0 sites per mile). North Topsail Beach had the most access parking spaces at 897 spaces. Wrightsville Beach averaged the most access parking spaces per mile -- 150 spaces per mile.

The North Carolina Division of Coastal Management's (NCDCM) interactive online Public Beach and Waterfront Access site locator provides a wealth of information on beach access sites in North Carolina including: amenities (restrooms, showers, etc.), parking, directions, and a site photo. The public access sites presented here are grouped into four main types: regional, neighborhood, local, and urban waterfront. This access site database includes both those sites for which DCM has provided funding as well as other oceanside facilities available. There may also be some other locally funded public access sites that use the DCM sign but are not shown in their data, which will primarily be along the estuarine shoreline areas. More information on beach and waterfront access mapping.

In mid-2015 NCDENR announced the availability of an interactive public beach and waterfront access map that can be accessed directly from your mobile device. Developed by division staff, the new mobile version of the agency’s popular online access site map provides information for more than 400 access sites along the North Carolina coast. The interactive map includes the location of each site, a site photo, number of parking spots and any applicable parking fees, restroom and shower facilities, and other amenities. To view the new mobile beach access map, visit

DCM continues to add access sites every year. Since 1981, over 288 public access sites have been constructed at a cost of $19.6 million ($11.6 million state/federal and $8 million local funds).[4] During 2005, DCM enhanced public access to public beaches and coastal waters through $1.4 million in grants for 21 projects in 15 local communities for public access projects. The grants help pay for a variety of projects to improve access to coastal beaches and waters, including walkways, dune crossovers, restrooms, parking areas and piers.

On the other hand, there is some concern by surfers and other beach-goers in southern Kitty Hawk and northern Kill Devil Hills regarding an increase in "No Parking" signs that tend to restrict access to some of the better surf breaks in the area. Additional public beach access and/or new parking areas may be needed in this area.

Dare County has proposed to build its first beach access and parking area on the island at Rodanthe, just south of the popular surfing spot known as "S-turns." The proposed access would be on about 7 acres of county land adjacent to the Mac Midgett water plant on N.C. 12. Plans for the site include a parking area with bike racks, a picnic area and public restrooms on the portion next to the road. For the beachfront strip, situated on high ground, the proposal includes a gazebo, a volleyball area, restrooms, showers, a wooden access to the beach and possibly a playground. The county bought the land in December 2008 for $800,000 and expects to get reimbursed by grants from the state. A final application for a grant for the infrastructure was due by April 2009.

Chronic erosion in the "S-turns" area has resulted in temporary closures of NC-12. The NC Department of Transportation is evaluating long-term options for this area. Since beach fill projects at the Rodanthe breach area are not considered feasible, that leaves only the options of building a bridge in the existing right-of-way or one that loops over the Pamlico Sound and bypasses the area altogether, which would cut off direct access to the surf break. More info

The N.C. Division of Coastal Management awards about $1 million a year in matching grants to local governments to improve pedestrian access to waterways. More than 280 access sites have been constructed along the coast since the program began.

The North Carolina State Parks website lets you search for information on 33 State Parks via a map, by name, or by activity. Swimming is listed but surfing is not. The four ocean parks identified on the Website as having swimming are: Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, Fort Macon State Park, Hammocks Beach State Park, and Jockey's Ridge State Park. Information available for each site includes park history, ecological information, rules and regulations, fees, driving directions, and a park map. There is also now an Official Guide for North Carolina State Parks app.

The National Park Service often provides updates regarding beach access status at Cape Hatteras National Seashore on their Website under the News Releases section. The Cape Hatteras National Seashore website has photos, webcams and directions.

Another good source for current information on the beach access situation at Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches is the Beach Access Issues page from Island Free Press.

The website of the Carteret County Shore Protection Office provides beach access information and maps for beaches along the Bogue Banks. In 2007 the Carteret County Shore Protection Office launched the GIS-based (Geographic Information System) coastal mapping portal to provide personalized access and customization tools for coastal-specific data relevant to the Carteret County region. The mapping portal was enhanced in 2012 and now includes the latest shoreline survey data, new offshore bathymetric contour maps, and geotechnical data from a detailed sand search conducted in 2011. The mapping portal has 207 total data layers including aerial photography, hurricane tracks, static lines, artificial reef sites, archeological sites, and much more.

The Protect the Beach website has a link to a description of North Carolina Beaches, a 352-page guide to North Carolina's 320 miles of coastline (available in print only). You can also try here.

NCDOT offers a free NC waterways and road map that is called the Coastal Boating Guide but is also a highly detailed coastal region highway map.

As mentioned above, a dispute over beach access exists in Currituck County, with two homeowner associations in Corolla battling it out. The Ocean Hill 1 Property Owners Association want three streets in their subdivision declared private. Homeowners at nearby Village at Ocean Hills claim that the roads have been open to the public for nearly 30 years and should remain that way. Carrituck County Commissioners sided with Ocean Hill 1 and declared the roads closed, but a Carrituck jury overruled the Board of Commissioners. Ocean Hill 1 residents have now appealed, but meanwhile, one of the roads has already been ripped up.

A beach access point was temporarily lost in 2006 in Wrightsville Beach. "Beach Access No. 33", located between the Blockade Runner Resort and the historic Gornto/Murchison cottage to the south, was closed after the town received a letter from Mary Gornto in July 2006. The letter stated that the family recently learned that their property line extended 20 feet further to the north and that they "do not wish for it to be used for public purposes." The access was restricted and the town's Board of Aldermen voted 3-2 in November 2006 to let it remain that way, even after town attorney John Wessel said that the town appears to have a case to retain the public access, based on prescriptive use laws in North Carolina. A prescriptive easement can occur when one party uses another's property for a certain number of years, usually 20, for a regular and well-known purpose.

Surfrider Foundation's Cape Fear Chapter achieved a victory in re-opening this access. Through public pressure and petitioning, followed by negotiations with the Town and homeowner the Chapter was able to come to a compromise. With the Chapter's assistance the town purchased a permanent easement to keep Access 33 open. This agreement also avoids setting a dangerous precedent of closing a public beach access.

The town of Ocean Isle Beach has rebuilt three beach access points (Columbia Street, Shallotte Boulevard and Charlotte Street) that were destroyed by erosion on the island's east end and is adding a new emergency access point at Starboard Street on the west end. This work followed completion of beach fill projects by the town and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

New public waterfront access points could be built in Ocean Isle Beach, helping protect the island's sand dunes from tourism traffic and boost access to the Intracoastal Waterway. The Ocean Isle Beach Board of Commissioners adopted two resolutions in May 2007 in support of state beach and coastal waterfront access grants for projects at Durham Street and Shallotte Boulevard. If the town is awarded the grants, beachgoers and residents near Durham Street will have a new stairway for public beach access. The Shallotte Boulevard project is larger and includes access to the Intracoastal Waterway, gazebos, picnic tables, parking spaces and recreation facilities. The Shallotte Boulevard project will cost $317,855, with $278,891 expected in grants. The Durham Street access will cost $26,111, with $19,583 paid for by grants. In an effort to improve waterfront access, the town is also planning to add parking spaces to some access points.

Public beach access in Pine Knolls Shores on the Bogue Banks will improve with the addition of at least five new access points. The town is building the additional beach accesses as part of the completion of the Section 933 beach fill project that placed sand on the shoreline, which was completed in April 2007. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the Section 933 project, requires public accesses to be built in order to receive sand. Located from east to west, the seven potential sites for the proposed beach accesses are Knollwood, Dogwood, Ocean Terrace, Qualls, Beacon’s Reach East, Beacon’s Reach West and the Trinity Center. Each access will need to have at least 10 parking spaces in accordance with the parking regulations set by the Corps.

In August 2010 town commissioners in Pine Knoll Shores approved the $850,000 purchase of a lot at 115 Knollwood Drive to create a public beach access, a 10-car parking lot and emergency vehicle access. The town will use the lot to meet its obligation to create a public beach access, as required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Section 933 Project, which was the beach fill project the commissioners signed in 2004, and was completed in 2007.

Beach Attendance Records

Detailed information on beach attendance in North Carolina was not readily available.

An East Carolina University survey of 563 adult residents in eight coastal counties found that when asked how often a household member goes to the beach for recreation, 22% said "never," 33% indicated "a few times per year," 6% said they visited the beach monthly, 11% visited "a few times per month," 12% went "weekly," and 16% visited "more than once per week."

Strategic Plan for Cape Hatteras National Seashore, October 1, 2006 - September 30, 2011 states:

  • "The Seashore attracts 2.5 million visitors annually."
  • "Successful local tourism marketing has resulted in significant rise in visitation to the Outer Banks and a corresponding rapid increase in visitation to the park."
  • "By September 30, 2011, Cape Hatteras National Seashore's attendance at facilitated programs will increase to 950,400."

Economic Evaluation of Beaches

Information on the economic evaluation of beaches in North Carolina was not readily available.

Here's a link to an article that discusses the results of a Hatteras Island Economic Impact Assessment completed in 2013.

North Carolina Sea Grant reports that it is developing databases for coastal counties that would allow for analyses of economic and demographic changes over time.

The NC Dept of Commerce conducts studies on the economic impact of tourism in general.

NOAA's Office for Coastal Management (OCM) has written a discussion of the recreational value of beaches, in the context of beach fill projects. In 2009 OCM released Introduction to Economics for Coastal Managers, a basic introduction to economic ideas and methods that can be applied to coastal resource management. The economic concepts provided in this introduction are illustrated through several case studies. Other OCM/Digital Coast publications can be found here.

The following two websites provide information on the economic value of coasts and the ocean throughout the country.

The National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP) provides a full range of the most current economic and socio-economic information available on changes and trends along the U.S. coast and in coastal waters. You can download data on jobs and GDP associated with specific types of coastal activities for each coastal state. You also can download data on commercial fishing and landings. The NOEP made public their fully updated Non-Market Valuation website in September 2008. The largest database in the world of studies documenting the environmental and recreational values of ocean resources, the website now includes 1) an updated methodologies section, 2) frequently asked questions, 3) examples of how Non-Market valuation influences public policy, and 4) an expanded table summarizing valuation estimates from across the United States. In 2014 NOEP released an updated State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2014, which points out that there is an imbalance between the economic importance of coasts and coastal oceans and the federal support for stewardship of these resources. According to the report, coastal states supply over 81 percent of American jobs and contribute $13 trillion to the economy, or 84 percent of GDP. More on this here. The National Ocean Economics Program previously released State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2009, which presents time-series data compiled over the past 10 years that track economic activities, demographics, natural resource production, non-market values, and federal expenditures in the U.S. coastal zone on land and water. The report states that coastal states account for more than 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The most recent report released by NOEP is the State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2016. The Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey now houses the National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP).

The website of Restore America's Estuaries has a report The Economic and Market Value of Coasts and Estuaries: What's At Stake?. According to the report, U.S. coasts and estuaries that have been protected and managed in a sustainable way are worth billions. Beaches, coastal communities, ports, and fragile bays are economic engines that drive and support large sectors of the national economy. The report focuses on aspects of coasts and estuaries that are most dependent on ecologically healthy conditions. The authors also examined a growing body of research that reveals the economic consequences of environmental change in coastal and estuary ecosystems.

A report A Review and Summary of Human Use Mapping in the Marine and Coastal Zone was published in December 2010. This report was prepared by ERG for NOAA's Coastal Services Center. The report evaluated different methods and approaches to measure human uses of the coastal and marine environment. The uses were divided into 1) military and industrial uses, 2) consumptive uses (e.g., fishing) and 3) non-consumptive activities (e.g., swimming, surfing, kayaking).

The economic value of beaches can increase or decrease due to a number of factors, including beach width; the presence or absence of amenities such as parking, restrooms or lifeguard services; the suitability of the beach for activities such as surfing or swimming; and the presence or absence of pollution and beach litter. In June 2014 NOAA published an infographic on the high cost of marine debris based on the report Assessing the Economic Benefits of Reductions in Marine Debris: A Pilot Study of Beach Recreation in Orange County, California, which was prepared by Industrial Economics, Inc. for NOAA's Marine Debris Division. It found that having debris on the beach and good water quality are the leading factors in deciding which beach residents visit. Reducing marine debris by even 25 percent at beaches in and near Orange County, California, could save residents approximately $32 million during the summer by not having to travel long distances to other beaches. Beach characteristics were collected for 31 popular Southern California public beaches from San Onofre Beach to Zuma Beach. Orange County residents were also surveyed on their recreation habits, including how many day trips they took to the beach from June - August 2013, where they went, how much it cost them, and which beach characteristics are important to them. The results provided in an estimate if how much Orange County residents would potentially benefit, including how often they visit beaches and how much they would save in travel costs, over a summer season by reducing marine debris at some or all of these 31 beaches. The study focused on Orange County because of the number and variety of beaches, their importance to permanent residents, ease of access, and likelihood that marine debris would be present. Researchers believe that, given the results, the study could be modified for assessing similar coastal communities in the United States.

For additional general discussion of the economic impacts of beaches, please see the article Economic Impact of Beaches.

Perception of Supply and Demand

NCDCM staff believes that there is sufficient coastal access and beach parking to meet current demand, but not to meet projected demand in 10 years. They do not believe that there is currently sufficient public transportation to or along the coast to meet the demand.[5]

An article by Susan West in the Outer Banks Sentinel on March 8, 2006 began:

"In the very near future, it will be difficult for anyone who does not own waterfront property to have access to coastal waters," wrote North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) Chairman Courtney Hackney in a January letter to N.C. Rep. Carolyn Justice, a member of the state's Joint Legislative Commission on Seafood and Aquaculture.

Although Hackney was sharing his personal thoughts on public access to state waters and wasn't speaking for the CRC, his isn't a solitary voice.

When the Long Beach pier on Oak Island closed, The Winston-Salem Journal wrote, "With each closing, the coast becomes less a shared resource for all and more a private enclave for the wealthy." [NOTE: Since that article was written, the town of Oak Island has since bought and maintains one of the two remaining piers on the island to ensure continued shared access.]

The North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission and a group of concerned maritime scholars have also raised warning flags, asking state leaders to look at ways to preserve public access and protect working waterfronts.

The conversion of access points, fish houses, docks, and boat yards to private, residential use raises serious concerns in a state that has taken great pride in policies upholding the theory of democratic ownership of public trust resources.

North Carolina Sea Grant plans to open the door to a statewide discussion of those concerns with a forum called North Carolina's Changing Waterfronts: Coastal Access and Traditional Uses. The public forum will be held in New Bern in early June."

In August 2008, the Carteret County Shore Protection Office graded themselves on beach access:

Public Access to Beaches (B+) – Is the glass half full or half empty? Bogue Banks is approximately 25 miles long and the notion that accesses with parking can simply be constructed anywhere so visitors and residents can get to anyplace on the beach they want to at anytime is a distant cousin from reality. It will never be perfect, but if improvement is what you’re looking for, then the past decade has seen some incredible strides – Pine Knoll Shores had zero public accesses at the turn of the decade – they now have 5. Little ol’ Indian Beach constructed 3 new accesses with parking just a few years ago, Atlantic Beach is working hard to get a new regional public access at the site of the former Triple S fishing pier, and Emerald Isle has made very conscious efforts to go “bigger and better” with huge improvements to their Eastern and Western Regional accesses, and a new access/parking facility off Coast Guard Road. The State deserves a lot of credit for furnishing important grant money to make these accesses, parking spaces, and amenities a reality. Plus, the State is planning to construct an oceanfront concrete pier in Emerald Isle. Sure there are some weak spots along Bogue Banks that need to be addressed but again, if we couple this with all the improvements, then a “B+” grade makes a lot of sense.

Public Education Program

The NCDCM Website provides information on public beach access.

Various NC travel brochures are available here, here, and here.

North Carolina Coastal Federation's 2010 State of the Coast report is "The coastal road less traveled: a travel guide with a conscience." The goal of this report is to "help visitors and residents learn how to celebrate the rich natural and cultural heritage of the NC coast."

Contact Info

Local governments located in Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hertford, Tyrell, Pasquotank, Perquimans and Washington counties should contact:

Charlan Owens, District Planner
Division of Coastal Management
1367 U.S. 17 South
Elizabeth City, NC 27909
(252) 264-3901

Local governments located in Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Hyde, Pamlico and Tyrell counties should contact:

Maureen Meehan, District Planner
Division of Coastal Management
400 Commerce Ave.
Morehead City, NC 28557
252-808-2808 / 1-888-4RCOAST (1-888-472-6278)

Local governments located in Pender, Onslow, New Hanover and Brunswick counties should contact:

Mike Christenbury, District Planner
Division of Coastal Management
127 Cardinal Drive Extension
Wilmington, NC 28405-3845
(910) 796 7426

NC Division of Parks and Recreation
1615 MSC
Raleigh, NC 27699
Phone: (919) 733-4181


  1. John Sutherland, NC Division of Water Resources. Surfrider State of the Beach survey response, January 2003.
  2. John Sutherland, NC Division of Water Resources. Surfrider State of the Beach survey response, January 2003.
  3. Mike Lopazanski, personal communication. June 17, 1999.
  4. Mike Lopazanski, personal communication. January 16, 2004.
  5. John Sutherland, NC Division of Water Resources. Surfrider State of the Beach Survey response, January 2003.

State of the Beach Report: North Carolina
North Carolina Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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