Emerald Isle access lots reopen, cool weather holds back crowds

Lifeguards, red jackets, foreground, monitor the strand Saturday at the Eastern Ocean Regional Access, where the parking lot opened to the public for the first time since March 19. (Brad Rich photo)

EMERALD ISLE — One of Emerald Isle’s two major beach access parking lots reopened Saturday morning, more with a shiver than a bang.

The temperature was in the upper 40s when the first vehicles entered the Eastern Ocean Regional Access for the first time since the novel coronavirus restrictions went into effect March 19. It was 57 degrees at noon, with a brisk northwest wind. The mercury was headed toward a high in the low- to mid-60s.

But the cool weather didn’t stop Kara Donaldson of Virginia, who jumped out of an SUV, wearing shorts and a windbreaker over a T-shirt and headed straight to the walkway to the beach with her poodle on a leash.

“No pictures,” she said, laughing. “I’ve got COVID hair. No hair care since March, and I’ve cut it myself twice.”

The second-time Emerald Isle visitor said she and the dog were glad to have the opportunity to walk the beach. She said she was worried about the virus at home but not on the beach.

“My husband – he’s at the grocery store – and I like this place a lot. I just couldn’t wait to see the ocean for the first time since last year,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

It was indeed a picture-perfect, blue-sky around noon. There were no fees to park, as there would be on a normal weekend this time of year.

A few people were in the water, including one young boy and a surfer and a paddle-boarder, both in wetsuits. Two more were walking dogs and the rest were in beach chairs, wearing ensembles that ranged from sweatpants and heavy jackets to shorts and T-shirts. One boy was shirtless for a minute or two before wrapping up in a towel.

Two lifeguards were on the beach Saturday, their vehicles parked behind the stand with yellow flags flying – normal conditions, caution advised.

Emerald Isle Commissioner Steve Finch drove up, checking things out. He discovered one of the two restrooms was unlocked when he saw someone walk out. Restrooms at the access were supposed to be closed, so he called town Parks and Recreation Director Alesia Sanderson, who locked it.

The commissioner said he was still concerned about the coronavirus spreading but understood people want to get out and enjoy the town’s calling-card.

“We’ll see how it goes,” he said. “Life goes on.”

Two other town beach access lots opened Saturday morning at Station Street and Third Street. At 12:45 p.m. a few cars were in each, plus a few bicycles and a lone golf cart.

The parking lot at the Western Ocean Regional Access off Islander Drive was still closed, as its deck and walkway to the beach are being rebuilt after suffering damage during Hurricane Florence in September 2018.

Parking lots at the grocery stores in town, Food Lion and Publix, weren’t packed, and there were no lunchtime lines at restaurants, which under phase one of Gov. Roy Cooper’s statewide reopening plan are allowed to offer only take-out or delivery of food.

Town Manager Matt Zapp said things were a busier Sunday, but overall “visitation was substantially less than normal” and far less than the previous, busy weekend.

He said parking, which usually costs $10 per day on weekends and holidays, will remain free this weekend but paid parking will begin Memorial Day weekend at the EORA.

There was one water rescue Saturday at 4:51 p.m., just west of Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier. According to Capt. Bill Mathias, ocean rescue coordinator, 911 dispatched units to the 8300 block of the strand.

Mobile lifeguard units in the area corrected the address to the 8100 block, and one male was coming out of the water when emergency crews arrived.

One lifeguard entered the ocean and assisted the person to the beach, where he was assessed by town EMS workers and released, Capt. Mathias said.

Yellow flags were flying nearby and the National Weather Service forecast included a moderate risk of rip currents.

The privately-owned pier had been expected to reopen Friday, May 15, but opened May 8. The beach access there was open, too, for the first time since early March.

Generally, Mr. Zapp said, “Mother’s Day weekend was safe and the mild weather was refreshing. We consider every safe weekend a success.”

 

Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.

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