By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on September 3, 2020
Anticipating higher-than-average beach populations this fall, five Dare County municipalities are extending their lifeguard coverage beyond Labor Day, a holiday that traditionally marks the end of summer and the removal of fixed lifeguard stands from town beaches.
Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Duck and Southern Shores — as well as the Cape Hatteras National Seashore — will all boost ocean rescue personnel presence on their beaches into September and even October. The move is in response to reports by property management companies and tourism experts that indicate increased vacation rental bookings this fall compared to previous years.
Depending on the municipality, the added coverage includes keeping some lifeguard stands up at specific beaches and, in some instances, increasing the number of lifeguards patrolling the beaches on ATVs.
Kitty Hawk Town Manager Andy Stewart said that the town will be monitoring beach activity after Labor Day and has a plan in place for reduced lifeguard patrol if necessary.
A Sept. 1 staff memo to the Southern Shores Council stated, “There are many indicators pointing to an extended tourist season beyond Labor Day and further into the fall. This increase will likely result in larger than normal visitors on the beach.”
The Southern Shores Town Council voted to keep two additional surf rescue lifeguards on staff for additional roving patrol coverage through Oct. 3.
Echoing those same concerns, Duck Deputy Town Clerk Kay Nickens, in a Sept. 2 memo to Duck Town Council citing the need for additional lifeguards, wrote: “Due to an increased forecast in tourism numbers surged by families working remotely, homeschooling, or partaking in virtual classrooms, etc., it is worthwhile to consider the repercussions of extended tourism numbers, especially on the beaches…”
Nickens continued, “Every company that has rentals available during this period has confirmed significant increases reservations during dates in which tourism traditionally tapers off.”
Among those that reported their bookings to the town include Brindley Beach Vacations, whose September bookings in Duck are up 60 percent from the same time last year, with October bookings up 10 percent so far.
In addition, the 183 homes in Duck managed by Sun Realty are fully booked through mid-September and the company’s most popular properties are fully booked until mid-October. As for Twiddy & Company, its vacancy rate until the end of September is three percent compared to 21 percent during the same period last year. And two-thirds of Beach Realty’s inventory in Duck is rented through Oct. 31.
The Duck Town Council voted on Sept. 2 to amend its contract with Mirek Dabrowski of Surf Rescue to include four additional lifeguards through the month of September, with those guards stationed at fixed stands at the most densely populated beaches. Those lifeguards would be in addition to four roving patrols already planned for the fall.
The council also decided to revisit the issue to determine what, if any, additional coverage would be needed in October.
In Nags Head, Deputy Town Manager Andy Garman said that based on current projected beach populations and occupancy rates, the municipality is also planning to increase staffing levels above prior years until Oct. 15.
During typical seasons, that town’s ocean rescue department utilizes ATV patrols and no fixed stands. “This year, we plan to keep four fixed stands up through the month of September at highly populated accesses [Bonnett, Epstein, Gulfstream, Juncos] supplemented with ATV patrols,” noted Garman, adding that the town will transition to ATV patrols on Oct. 1 until Oct. 15.
He noted that the plan would be adjusted as needed based on observed trends.
As for Kill Devil Hills, Fire Chief Troy Tilley said that his ocean rescue department will expand services to include five manned lifeguard stands through Oct. 15 at the Hayman, 5th Street, 2nd Street, Ocean Bay and Neptune beach accesses.
The National Park Service (NPS) lifeguard stands at Coquina Beach, Frisco and Ocracoke Beach accesses will also continue to be manned through Sept. 30, according to NPS Public Affairs Specialist Michael Barber. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Beach in Buxton will conclude lifeguard service on Sept. 7, Labor Day.