Following guidance from the governor’s office and the Department of Health and Human Services, North Carolina’s state parks has increased recreational access and services, according to a press release. The loosening began on May 9.
And, although ferry service is still not available, there are ways for visitors to reach Bear Island, the centerpiece of Hammocks Beach State Park in Swansboro, according to Ranger Sarah Kendrick, park superintendent.
Not only that, camping on Bear Island will be allowed again as of this week.
In the press release from the Division of Parks and Recreation, all the parks are working with state and local public health authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and use a phased, collaborative approach to increase access to North Carolina State Parks in a systematic manner.
The 29 state parks that were closed reopened most roads, trails, restrooms and some boat ramps. Some access areas may be closed, so visitors should check park webpages for details. Campgrounds, picnic shelters, swim areas, playgrounds, visitor centers, and other common gathering areas will remain closed during this phase.
“The health and safety of employees, visitors, and residents of our state remain the highest priority as we move forward with easing restrictions at state parks. Park superintendents have examined each facility function and service provided to ensure those operations comply with public health guidance. Cleaning procedures effective for COVID-19 disinfection are established and staff is trained to disinfect restrooms and high-touch areas. Park staff has Personal Protective Equipment to reduce the spread risk of COVID-19 as they interact with the public and clean restrooms and other areas.
“The importance of our parks and trails to North Carolinians has become quite apparent during this pandemic,” said State Parks Director Dwayne Patterson. “While we look forward to welcoming visitors back to the parks that have been closed, we are approaching this phased reopening with safety in mind. As we balance the high visitation we expect with our responsibility to protect park staff and natural resources, we ask that everyone be respectful of park staff, other visitors, and the parks’ natural areas.”
A return to full operations will occur in phases. The current plan calls for reopening campgrounds in the second phase, and the third and final phase will include opening common areas and resuming educational activities and other programming.
To ensure health and safety, park visitors should follow the “Three W’s” as outlined by the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services – wear a mask or cloth face covering; wait in line at least 6 feet away from others, and wash hands frequently. Visitors should also follow local health orders, maintain social distancing, bring hand sanitizer and reusable water bottles, avoid high-risk activities that could lead to calling first responders who are needed elsewhere during the pandemic and practice Leave No Trace principles.
The Hammocks Beach State Park Visitor Center remains closed to the public, according to Kendrick.
Open at Hammocks Beach are the park’s mainland trails, the visitor center restrooms, the kayak launch and the boat ramp.
“Camping is opening on May 22,” Kendrick said. “People must have a reservation to camp on Bear Island.”
Also, she said that park ferries, which would normally be operating on the hour for transport between the mainland and Bear Island, are not running.
However, private carriers are available to transport passengers to the 892-acre undeveloped island, according to Kendrick. The Lady Swan out of Swansboro, a pontoon boat, is making regular trips and is utilizing the park docks.
“The Lady Swan is the only company that has asked us if they could use our docks,” she said. “If other companies want to use our docks, they need to contact me. I just like to verify that they do have the proper credentials and make sure that they inform their patrons of the rules and regulations in state parks, especially our gate hours.”
Arrangements to travel aboard the Lady Swan should be made through the Lady Swansboro Facebook page. Ticket purchase is not allowed on state park property.
Those wishing to reach Bear Island can also utilize one of the water taxis that are registered with the park, Marsh Cruises or Pogie’s, according to Kendrick. Those services can also be reached through Facebook.
Kendrick said that when Lady Swan approached her, she explained that the dock is open for use until the park ferries return to operation. “I’m going to let others do it if they ask me,” she added.
However, there are certain guidelines a service must follow. There are specific hours of operation and there are rules visitors must follow.
“And we also like to know who’s taking people over so we can give people who call their phone number,” she said. “Our goal right now is to get people to Bear Island.”
Hammocks Beach State Park staff asks that visitors check the park webpage for detailed information before visiting rather than calling the park office.
For the most up to date information about facility openings, service hours and access, please visit the Division of Parks and Recreation’s website at ncparks.gov/open.
Email Jimmy Williams at email@example.com.