By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on August 1, 2020
The number of visitors at Jockey’s Ridge State Park’s Soundside Access has steadily climbed in recent years, exploding this summer to the point that local and state park officials are starting to work with concerned neighbors to tackle the skyrocketing traffic and parking woes.
With its shallow waters and calm conditions, families, bathers, kiteboarders and other water enthusiasts have increasingly discovered the access. Thousands of visitors and hundreds of vehicles travel down Soundside Road each day to compete for its 23 parking spaces or a spot along the access road. At times, vehicles line up to wait for the access gates to open at 8 a.m. Latecomers find alternative parking spots along the road’s right-of-way or in residential yards.
“Word has gotten out,” said Jockey’s Ridge State Park (JRSP) Superintendent Joy Greenwood said of the access’s popularity, noting that it is one of the few public soundside beach accesses on the northern Outer Banks, as well as an ideal spot for families with young children.
For some residents, that popularity has brought problems.
“The neighborhood is really concerned about the volume of traffic, it’s unacceptable for a residential district,” said Megan Vaughan, who’s lived on Soundside Road for 33 years. “We’re hoping that in conjunction with the town and state, we can start to solve the problem. We want to reduce the traffic…I think the volume is too much and not right for a residential neighborhood.”
The town of Nags Head leases the soundside access from Jockey’s Ridge State Park (JRSP) and they manage it jointly. And local and state officials both say they are working with residents on possible solutions.
“I think that the goal is to try and restore some of [the quiet neighborhood atmosphere] if we can,” Nags Head Deputy Town Manager Andy Garman told the Voice. “We’re just sort of the tip of the iceberg with some of the ideas we want to talk about.”
JRSP’s Greenwood said she is confident that a resolution to the traffic and parking issues can be reached, but added that “it’s very challenging when there are a lot of different stakeholders involved. It will take a little time, but I am optimistic.”
In an attempt to control the parking along Soundside Road, Nags Head has erected a number of no parking signs along the roadway, but Garman acknowledged that those only push people to park further away and don’t address the volume of traffic.
“People just sort of migrate to other areas, and I’ve heard people are starting to use the church parking lot all the way at the end [of Soundside Road],” he said.
Garman explained that one concept that came out of a recent stakeholder meeting with residents and representatives of Nags Head and JRSP was the possibility of offering a shuttle to the access from JRSP’s main entrance to decrease the traffic volume on Soundside Road.
According to data provided by JRSP, an estimated 53,644 people visited the access during the month of June. And as of July 26, there have been 69,448 people who have visited the access this month. Based on JRSP numbers for June, the soundside access accounted for roughly 18 percent of the total visitation to the park, which has a main entrance on Carolista Drive. So far this month, the soundside access accounts for about 24 percent of total visitation to the park.
Greenwood estimates that the access sees an average of about 400 cars per day during the summer months.
The Town of Nags Head developed the access roughly three decades ago and Garman said that even back then, there were some concerns from neighbors about the conflict between a high- use area and a quiet residential neighborhood.
“I think that what had been a concern back then has grown, probably well beyond what people ever thought it would become,” he asserted.
Karen Reeder, whose property on Soundside Road has been in her family for generations, characterized the traffic problems on her street this summer as “extreme,” with cars going 40 miles per hour in a 15-mile-per-hour zone. “It [unnerves] me so badly that I can’t even sit outside because every single car is speeding,” she added.
Bobbie Murray, another longtime Soundside Road resident, worries about the environmental impacts the droves of people will have on the sound beach.
“How much can this beach handle and still protect the resource and safety of people in and out of the water,” Murray said. “I do think it’s overused…I do feel like we’re not taking care of the natural resource that the shoreline is.”