Currituck Board discusses wild horses, parking passes in Carova

By on October 9, 2023

Parking space is a precious commodity in Carova. (Credit Kip Tabb/OBV)

As the off-road area of Currituck County, commonly referred to as Carova, becomes more popular for recreational use and vacation home rentals, Currituck County Commissioners have become increasingly concerned about overuse of the fragile 11 miles of beach between the end of NC 12 and the Virginia border.

The area is facing unprecedented growth. Information provided by the Currituck County Development Services Department through the end of this year shows a projected 819 building permit applications for Carova since 2018. Not all applications are for new homes; nonetheless, Development Services believes by the end of the year, 198 certificates of occupancy will have been issued for the new homes since 2018.

For the summer, the county has created a beach parking permit system to control cars line up for a mile or more along the shoreline as the popularity of the area shows no signs of abating.

The area is the last refuge of the Corolla Wild Horses. The herd was moved north of Corolla in the 1990s and taking a trip to see the horses is one of the most popular activities for visitors to the county.

To address the issue, the Currituck Commissioners convened a special work session on Wednesday and Thursday, October 4 and 5.

In remarks to the board, Commissioner Paul Beaumont commented that the county has no one to blame but itself. “Currituck County is our own worst enemy…We advertise come to Currituck, go look at the horses,” he said. “That’s our major marketing thing. So it’s our fault that there’s so much traffic on the beaches because that’s what we’re telling people to do.”

The Corolla herd was the first focus of the dilemma confronting the county. The horses are one of the primary reasons for the popularity of the area, yet overdevelopment and overuse threatens the habitat the horses need to survive.

“The intention was to get before commissioners and have these discussions,” noted County Manager Ike McRee. “This may be the first time that the board has had really any discussion and recognition of the issues that are arising in the off-road area.”

Hoping to address the potential loss of habitat by the horses, BOC Chair Bob White introduced the idea of creating a green corridor for the herd. Taking note of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund’s (CWHF) Land Preservation Initiative, he felt the idea could be used to develop that corridor.

White is the owner of Bob White’s Horse Tours. In remarks to the board, he indicated he would recuse himself from any vote on licensing and regulating horse tours in the Carova area.

The Initiative hopes to create, “A targeted north-to-south corridor of undeveloped property” as described by the CWHF on its website. To date, nine parcels have been given to the CWHF and placed in a conservation easement.

But as White pointed out, that is a small fraction of the land that would be needed, and the county could have a role to play in helping acquire land.  Although the county could contribute to creating the corridor, White felt there were partner organizations that would be willing to help.

“I think the people we’re talking to now at Dominion Power, for instance [and] North Carolina and Outer Banks, there’s a couple of different nature conservancy groups that would be involved,” he said.

The commissioners did not express opposition to the idea, but some indicated there had to be a plan in place first.

“What we need is to set an acquisition plan,” said Commissioner Selina Jarvis, adding that perhaps “the first acquisition we go after are the ones most utilized by the horses.” Beaumont agreed, adding that if the commitment is made, it would be important for the county to not back out.

“My concern is we get started and then due to other needs, we walk away from it…That’s going to be bad,” he said.

White saw the CWHF and their Land Preservation Initiative as a way to address the larger issue of overdevelopment of Carova.

McRee suggested the commissioners reconsider a text amendment that was not adopted by the county that would have reduced the number of buildable lots in Carova.

The commissioners seemed particularly interested in changing setback requirements from 10 feet to 15 feet. A five-foot change in the setback requirements for a new home would effectively reduce the footprint by 10 feet all around—five feet on the front and the back, and five feet on each side.

Commissioner Kevin McCord, noting that homes as large as 28 bedrooms have been built in the area, indicated support for the idea, noting “That’s an easy fix.”

The commissioners also addressed beach parking and overuse of the area by people driving on the beach and in the areas behind the dunes. All county residents are entitled to a beach parking pass and commissioners were particularly irritated that the passes were being sold to the highest bidder when not in use.

“We need to come down like a hammer on that because that completely defeats the purpose,” Beaumont said.

It is doubtful that any changes will occur in 2024, but the commissioners agreed to discuss changing the beach pass to an access pass for the whole area as a means of reducing how many nonresidents can drive in the off-road area. There was also considerable discussion centered on changing the current tag system for beach access to a sticker that could not be transferred.



Comments

  • Just Another Mike

    @Steven – I was there last week and the week before. It has changed over the years for sure, but your use of the word desecrated only proves my point about the extreme overreactors like yourself. If you think it’s that bad, leave.

    Wednesday, Oct 11 @ 3:29 pm
  • Dan-O

    I have visited Currituck since 1988. Yes, horse is out of the barn. It has run its course, is far from charming, far from unique and far too claustrophobic in-season. As for the horses, they are far from special; they are truly a tourist attraction for people who have never seen a horse, apparently. Admit it, commissioners: the vision is for more houses, more eateries, more “charming” shopping areas, and more congestion for Corolla/Carova. If it were not, White would recuse himself from every vote even remotely related to pro-growth, pro-business or pro-tourism. All of this posturing is merely bad theater.

    Wednesday, Oct 11 @ 4:03 pm
  • 102

    Sorry folks, I’m a GD yankee. I moved here almost 45 years ago, married a local girl and still am not a local. Almost all the Bull S**t above is from folks that are new. I trimmed 2 of the first houses in Crown Point and several houses in Ocean Sands. I caught my lab, and she was black, playing with a foal. heard Momma snorting and getting mad and got Tasha back. This all happened under and around a house in Ocean Sands. Those were the good days, little did we know how the realty people and later the tourist ass h**les would exploit everything and anything that could turn a buck. Greed has taken over on the total Outer Banks and there is no fix. There should be an open season on unscrupulous ” Carpet Baggers” One of the most biggest contractors that built the lions share of the houses on small lots was D*A. He now has one of the biggest pot farms. Glad there are no horses on the lower beaches( duck to nags head cause they would be road kill.

    Wednesday, Oct 11 @ 5:59 pm
  • Part Time OBX

    I will say this, the horse tours can be reduced to 3 days a week – or even 2 all season, that will reduce traffic and reduce wear and tear on the beach, and less pressure on the horses. I will also say, most residents and vacationers in the 4×4 area are there to get away from the cluster crap down south – the horses are just an added bonus, not the main attraction. Another simple fix, County residents with a permanent sticker (not owners who live somewhere else -actual residents) and renters in the 4×4 with temp passes for their respective week should be the only ones allowed to drive up the beach from the gate. Day trippers, or anyone who wish to drive up the beach – $75 per day, or $300 for a 5 day pass. Not a parking pass, a beach use pass – whether you drive or park. And as for the Horse Tours, their permit fees need to increase 200% along with reducing their trips to 2 or 3 times a week (not a day) as mentioned above, but half of their profits need to be donated to the Wild Horse Fund in the County.

    Friday, Oct 13 @ 8:40 am
  • Fat old guy

    So…you are “part time OBX” but you have the very solution that we who live here haven’t been able to come up with? Why don’t you relocate here full time, take your ideas, run for office, get elected and THEN you can try to dictate to us how we should conduct ourselves.
    Your ideas haven’t much merit. Limit access to the beach for a fee?
    Sure. But explain what you would do with the money, and how do you know that will deter day trippers? Evidence please!
    Limit private business tour companies access to some random number of days?
    Sure. Enterprise and risk allowed those business to get started. Let’s penalize those damn capitalists! Do you know that at least two tour companies own land there that they have said they will not develop? That one is a significant donor to the Wild Horse Fund?
    Real solutions not back of the envelope pie in the sky ideas are needed.
    Please stay part time. You have proved the old adage…” there are more horse’s asses than horse’s heads.”

    Saturday, Oct 14 @ 6:56 am
  • Mike Raphone

    Pen up the fake Spanish mustangs (Just like Ocracoke), and end horse tours. The horse tours are the scourge of Carova Beach. And the county should be ashamed of having Bob White as a commissioner.

    Thursday, Oct 19 @ 11:21 am