EMERALD ISLE — The Bogue Inlet Pier will reopen Friday and will begin charging beachgoers for parking every day of the week, beginning April 15 and lasting through Labor Day, Sept. 6. Pier fishermen will still get to park free.
In the past, beach access parking fees during the season have been charged only on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
Pier owner Mike Stanley said this week the parking fee decision was based in part on Emerald Isle, which is expected Tuesday night to change the paid parking season to April 1 through Sept. 30, every day, rather than weekends and holidays between mid-May and Labor Day.
At the pier, which has been in Mr. Stanley’s family since 1971, the fee will be $5 for the first hour or $15 per day. He doesn’t think that is too high and remembers seeing daily fees as high as $25 in lots in some more northerly coastal states.
The pier owner, who last year put the venerable structure up for sale, said another reason to start paid parking every day during the season is that Topsail Beach and Surf City have also instituted paid parking, increasing the likelihood visitors from Jacksonville will drive to Carteret County, rather than look for free beach parking on weekdays.
Without his own changes, Mr. Stanley said those two towns might have been a bigger trigger for increased weekday visitation to Bogue Inlet Pier operators than Emerald Isle, where fees are expected to range from $2 per hour to $4 per hour, depending upon the month, with a maximum daily fee of $16 per hour.
“It’s a domino effect,” he said of his decision to go to paid parking every day all season. “We had no choice but to work with (Emerald Isle) because our facilities cannot handle a super large influx of beachers and we have to maintain parking spaces for pier fishing and Surf's Up!,” the onsite, oceanfront restaurant.
“Folks down there (south of Carteret County) are not as used to paying to go to the beach,” Mr. Stanley said, adding that if he doesn’t start paid parking daily, he fears his lot will be filled with beach day-trippers from Jacksonville and elsewhere, not leaving room for his fishermen and restaurant customers.
He said people need to get used to paying for beach parking because it’s happening everywhere.
In Topsail Beach in Onslow County, according to the town website, fees are every day, year-round. It’s $5 per hour or $25 for a day pass, although Topsail Beach is offering a $100 weekly pass and a $250 annual pass. Residents and property owners get to park free at town-controlled lots.
In Surf City in Onslow and Pender counties, paid parking will be in effect from April 1 through Oct. 30 for $3 per hour or $15 per day, with the option for a $60 weekly or $250 annual pass. Residents and property owners also park free.
In Emerald Isle, as of Monday, the town commission has rejected weekly or seasonal passes for its eastern and western major access lots.
Mr. Stanley said he also encourages as many people as possible who come to the pier to walk, skateboard or ride bicycles.
“You don’t have to pay to park your bicycle,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Stanley said he thinks the recently started beach nourishment project in Emerald Isle should reach the pier no later than Thursday, April 1, which is the day before Easter weekend begins.
Ocean water temperatures are on target for good spring fishing.
“We are now hovering around 50 to 52 degrees, which is perfect for this time of year,” he said. “After a relatively mild but wet winter, the early spring looks promising for fishing and beach fun.”
Last year, the coronavirus pandemic hit the area and played havoc with spring fishing there. Mr. Stanley opened as usual in March, then voluntarily shut down a couple of weeks later until mid-May. He said he lost a lot of fishing revenue.
This year, he said he’s expecting a busy spring, summer and fall and has left pier fishing prices the same as they’ve been for about the past decade.
“Business was great last year (after the re-opening),” he said, and added that despite his desire to retire, he doesn’t foresee the pier selling anytime soon. He’s anticipating a bad business climate, especially for big sales.
Last July, his asking price was $18 million for the complex, including pier, the parking lot, Surf’s Up! and the Beachfront RV Park. He said he’s prepared to ride it out if it takes four or five years to sell.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.