Beach Access and Park Issues
July 22, 2010



There will be no lifeguarded beach on Hatteras this summer


By IRENE NOLAN



It is very unlikely at this point that Hatteras Island will have a lifeguarded beach this summer, according to Paul Stevens, chief enforcement ranger for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

In an interview yesterday, Stevens said he had remained hopeful that the Park Service could make emergency hires to staff the lifeguarded beach at the Cape Hatteras Light Station in Buxton.

But with more than half the summer gone, he admitted that time has run out.

“I was just overly optimistic,” he said.

The Park Service opened lifeguarded beaches at Coquina Beach on Bodie Island and on Ocracoke on Memorial Day weekend.  The beaches are scheduled to have lifeguards daily until Labor Day.

At the end of May, park officials were still planning to get lifeguards in place on Hatteras Island.

However, Stevens said the park has run into serious problems recruiting guards – as they have in the past few years.

Stevens says the problem is not a lack of funding.

The program is budgeted for 15 guards – a chief guard and 14 others – for about $150,000 during the three summer months, he said.

Stevens said even though his staff, including chief guard Roy Hutson, started earlier – in January and February -- with their recruitment, they just did not get the qualified applicants.

The Park Service, said Stevens, has some restrictions that contract lifeguard services on the northern beaches don’t have.

Guards must be 18 years old – no high school students.  They cannot be foreign nationals, as is allowed in other programs.  And they are subject to the federal government’s background check requirements.


Housing is not an issue for the lifeguards, Stevens said.  It has not been an issue for the Coquina Beach lifeguards and the Park Service has housing available for guards on Hatteras and Ocracoke.

And the park would love to have island residents who are qualified apply, but that has not happened either.

The pay for lifeguards is respectable.

The guards are hired in the G2 through G5 pay range, Stevens said, depending on their experience in ocean rescue.  Those pay grades range from $11.78 per hour for G2 to $17.86 for G5.  Employment is for 40 hours a week for about three months.

Stevens said seashore superintendent Mike Murray is committed to having three lifeguarded beach on the seashore – on Bodie Island, Hatteras Island, and on Ocracoke.

But even that is a change from the mid-‘70s when they were 11 lifeguarded beaches at the seashore.

Stevens said that he and his chief guard will start looking at other options for next summer – starting recruitment even earlier and targeting colleges with swim teams and perhaps contracting lifeguard services or partnering with Dare County.

This summer, Stevens said, with only enough guards to staff two beaches, he chose Coquina Beach and Ocracoke, which are both locations with bathhouses and ample parking.

The Buxton Beach, which has made Dr. Beach’s Top Ten list for the past several years, has plenty of parking but no bathhouse.  There was one planned in the final phase of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse move, but it was never built.

The South Beach in Frisco does have a bathhouse but not as much parking as the Buxton beach.

Bob Helle, who handles public information for the Hatteras Island Rescue Squad, is not happy with the status quo.

Hatteras Island Rescue, which provides water rescue and other services, in Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras village, does patrol the beach as much as possible when the rip currents threat is high and on some holiday weekends.

Helle says visitors ask him about lifeguarded beaches on Hatteras, especially when the ocean is rough.

“We’ve been very lucky so far this summer,” he said. “So far, we have had very benign conditions. I hope maybe next year, the Park Service will have a better plan and promulgate the information to the public in a more timely manner.”


For more information on rip currents

Local rip current forecast:
www.weather.gov/newport.  Click on marine forecasts on the left side of the screen. Look for rip current information forecast.

Eena Project:
www.eenaproject.com

Weather Channel:
www.weather.com

National Park Service – Cape Hatteras Seashore
www.nps.gov/caha


Hatteras Island Visitor Center – 252-995-4474
Hatteras Island Ranger Station – 252-995-5044
Ocracoke Island ranger station – 252-928-5111
Ocracoke Visitor Center -- 252-928-4531

 




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