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

  • Charles

    “Loving it to death” a fate all too common to many popular things – including the Outer Banks.

    28 bedrooms! That’s a hotel, regardless of how it’s labeled. Bathroom for each bedroom? That’s 28 or more parking places, a swimming pool size septic tank. Almost certainly an actual swimming pool. How many “houses” of this size and larger have been built or permitted to date? Sprinkler systems as now required for most hotels and motels required for these? Hotel/Motel taxes on occupants?

    But the horses can be fenced in to protect them and horse tours can be shorter – just like zoo tours.

    Monday, Oct 9 @ 9:11 pm
  • Horse Pucky

    “BOC Chair Bob White introduced the idea of creating a green corridor for the herd.” Bob White wants to use taxpayer money to buy land to create a wild horse corridor that will facilitate his horse tour business. The commissioners want to restrict access to Carova for non-residents but still allow access for Bob’s commercial horse tours which have the biggest negative impacts on the wild horses

    Bob has his fingers in all the pies. He owns the largest horse tour business, he is Chairman of the Board of the county commissioners, and he is also vice-chairman of the “non-profit” CWHF Fund which has revenues of over $1 million per year.

    Nothing to see here. These are not the horses you are looking for. Move along.

    Monday, Oct 9 @ 10:28 pm
  • democracy

    From the article:

    “overdevelopment and overuse threatens the habitat the horses need to survive.”

    It would seem that the solutions are obvious.

    Tuesday, Oct 10 @ 4:54 am
  • Brian

    Build it they will come. That is exactly what has happened. As a native of the area I have had a front row seat for over 60 years. You talk about changing the set backs, I have never understood why on the currituck mainland if there was no county water or sewer you had you have a 1 acre minim to build a house . Up here many lots are 1/3 or 1/4 acre. Try making 1 acre lots here and see what stink you raise.
    Mr Beaumont is right that it is the fault of the county past and present this is happening. Mostly driven by money and greed. I never understood why the heard needed to be a 100 or more anyway, other to make easier for the tour trucks to find them. You are admitting there is not enough land to support that many and you expect the resident and property owners to provide their land to the horses. I live in carova and I can tell you living with wild horses is not always fun and joy. Do you realize a large number of vehicles up here in the summer come from Dare county, Duck Southern shores and so on, This is the same county that refuse to let our school kids attend school there, resulting in a 2 hour drive. Its time to restrict the beach driving and do what Ocracoke did, reduce the heard and pin them up. End the horse tours and reduce beach traffic by 300 vehicles plus.

    Tuesday, Oct 10 @ 7:15 am
  • pj

    Seems Currituck is right in the middle of using the proven Dare county model for ruination of of beach areas formula. Step 1..dam the infrastructure, (there isnt even a paved road to get to most of the homes!), put up a house on every sliver of land, local leadership makes money during the whole process, then the overdeveloping starts causing infrastructure problems (x2 up that way), then you start having paid studies to remedy the problems caused by said expansion because there isnt enough housing for employees, or enough access to medical services. Sound familiar? In the end the so called “wild” horses will not stand a chance against money. It is a certainty that the horses will end up being in a glorified pen (which is kinda already happening)There is no bright side to this situation unless you are one of the ones making money off it.

    Tuesday, Oct 10 @ 8:14 am
  • Grandy Reader

    It’s nice that Mr. White is at least trying at solutions with one hand, but exploiting a ‘free’ resource with the other.

    Over 100 tours a day in season, unfathomable. “Anything goes” up there, and everyone knows it.

    Then we get to read of the deaths of horses/turtles from speeding drunks day and night…Horse fatalities from choking on non-native fruit…Idiot selfies for social media.

    It’s all a mess, with the animals paying all of the cost.

    Here’s an idea: Move the horses to a preserve somewhere, geld the males, and let them live out a natural existence in peace. Would Mr. White recuse himself from that vote?

    Tuesday, Oct 10 @ 8:20 am
  • M

    Beaumont is absolutely correct, y’all created this mess and now you’re trying to fix it, huh! Currituck, Dare, and the Horse Fund are to blame for using the horses to drawl people in!. White should not even be allowed on the Board!

    I have had people reach out to me that I haven’t heard from in over 20 yrs asking about coming here to see the horses. The beach is a mess because of the Tours, traffic, construction vehicles, etc. You have created an unsafe environment for everyone and the horses, shame on you all!

    Tuesday, Oct 10 @ 8:22 am
  • tim

    Build the bridge and this will be many times worse. McDonald’s and Burger King will be there too.

    Tuesday, Oct 10 @ 9:11 am
  • Wild Horses, Gonna Drive Us Away

    With apologies to the Rolling Stones:

    Childhood living
    Is easy to do
    Pretty pink ponys
    They bought them for you

    Wild horses
    From ocean to bay
    Wild, wild horses
    Gonna drive us away

    Graceless lady
    Now an overgrown child
    You don’t know the difference
    Between feral and wild

    Wild horses
    Put on display
    Wild, wild horses
    Horse tours get the pay

    You made us suffer
    With your feral horse tours
    Now you’ve decided
    Whats ours is now yours

    Wild horses
    Always on the roadway
    Wild, wild horses
    Gonna drive us away

    Faith has been broken
    With your feral horse schemes
    Must move from Carova
    And give up our dreams

    Wild horses
    Locals don’t get no say
    Wild, wild horses
    They done drove us away

    Tuesday, Oct 10 @ 9:23 am
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    I read that poem with the tune in my head the whole time.

    Tuesday, Oct 10 @ 12:44 pm
  • surf123

    No one plans their vacation around seeing a few horses except a few zealots. Ending the tours will solve a lot of the problem and if you are still concerned about your advertising having an effect then stop it. The horses are completely acclimated to vehicles and scores of humans staring at them which does not help their survivability. The area is well beyond facing unprecedented growth. Like magic it somehow happened, maybe it was fairy dust that was used to build the houses. The growth has been out of control since 2000 and the number of building permits is an ok metric but meaningless without historical data. The only metric worth knowing is the number of bedrooms on the Currituck OBX. You can take that number and multiply by 2 for the floor and more realistically 2.5 to get a more accurate number of how many people are there on any given week and what the overall capacity is after adding in the other lodging types. The ship has sailed and there is no turning back now.

    Tuesday, Oct 10 @ 9:47 am
  • Bob

    Sounds to me like it’s time to pen the horses and build a paved road. If growth continues, it will have to happen some day…and sounds to me like it may already be past that point.

    Tuesday, Oct 10 @ 9:53 am
  • Steven

    Since feral horse tours are so popular, they should do feral cat tours.

    Growing up we had a little place in Carova, it was wonderful. Now its so very sad, place is totally destroyed. Plus look at the type of person that visits there now, a far cry from ‘good people’

    Tuesday, Oct 10 @ 10:16 am
  • lee

    It is hard to believe the county is discussing buying millions of dollars to by land for the horses. They say the county already has 700 acres just north of carolla. Fence it in build walkways through the wood and marsh so all can see the horses without spending a bunch of money to see them. It would reduce traffic on the beach by at least 300 vehicles a day,just in tour trucks, give the horses a safe place to live. You will have to reduce the heard numbers which is out of hand anyway. I wish all county residents would watch this meeting on youtube to see the foolishness our commissioners are talking about.
    I guess alot of people believe the myth that these horses have roamed the area for 200 years as the tourist bureau advertises. My family has been here for over 200 years and I can tell you there was no wild Spanish mustangs roaming the obx in the 30s and 40s. The population of wild horses started in the early 50s . My father witnessed a old farmer from sufolk va. dump several truck loads of horses in the early 50s when he was building the air strip at the whalehead club in carolla. I cant belieave of all the things this county need and they want to spend millions of dollars for a place for feral horses to live

    Tuesday, Oct 10 @ 11:36 am
  • Just Another Mike

    Man, people are so dramatic. The place is ruined, totally destroyed, blah blah blah. It’s not. It’s still an amazing place. The beach permits were a start and it has significantly reduced the number of people there. The solution seems pretty simple. Limit the number of building permits issued per year, create stickers instead of window clings so they can’t be removed and reused or sold, levy a heavy fine for selling or lending beach passes, make a pass required to enter the beach (currently a pass is required to park, but anyone can drive on the beach), further reduce the number of tourist passes issued, limit night time driving to those that live or are staying in Carova. It creates a couple of enforcement challenges, but with the other things I bet it would significantly reduce the amount of traffic. Not sure the horse tours are causing the issue, seems like the people living out there just don’t like them. I get that, but shutting down a business is a last resort. Better 20 people pile in one truck than 20 people who have no business driving on the beach renting jeeps and driving themselves. People have the right to use public lands, but Government has the right to place some limits to protect the land and resources. There seems to be a measured resolution to reducing the impact, but still allowing access to private citizens, businesses and land owners.

    Tuesday, Oct 10 @ 1:26 pm
  • Barrier Island Ranching

    “Lee” is correct. These feral horses are not romantic Spanish mustangs dropped off by dashing Conquistadors. It is all a fiction used to promote tourism. Not unlike the “lost colony” that was never lost, just abandoned, and later became the first multicultural tribe in the new world.

    From the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s much of the outer banks including the area that is now part of Currituck County was used for ranching. The barrier islands were a perfect location because the ranchers did not need to fence the rangeland. This area was filled with thousands of cattle, and the associated horses and other livestock. These remaining feral horses are just a remnant of that ranching way of life.

    Tuesday, Oct 10 @ 3:32 pm
  • Hank Epanke

    These horses aren’t that big a thing, they aren’t really descendants of any wild Spanish mustangs. Why does the County allow this type development somewhere that requires up to an 11 miles each way drive on sand anyways?

    You and Dare allowing these mansions basically on small slivers of land seems to have run its course… Maybe cut the crap? The whole area isn’t as enjoyable as it once was, the whole allure to it was it wasn’t an over commercialized vacation spot, well it pretty much has become that.

    Tuesday, Oct 10 @ 7:26 pm
  • OBX Dan

    Currituck County commissioners, the greediest bunch on the eastern seaboard. Property tax revenue and new construction are habits they can’t seem to kick. Keep “studying” the “issue” while depositing all of the money the “issue” generates in the mainland. The commissioners past and present are what’s destroying Corolla and Carova. Zero leadership, all greed.

    Tuesday, Oct 10 @ 9:34 pm
  • Carova Girl

    Lee is right!!! Also these permits are a bunch of crap! They are not enforced by the police! I drive the beach up and down everyday with my job. Most vehicles DO NOT have a permit hanging. They do not in anyway enforce the “Law”!
    Bob White is a joke ! ! He is the problem! His vehicles are rutting up the roads and he is lining his pockets with the profits off lies of these horses.
    Currituck needs to truly reevaluate this dire situation!

    Wednesday, Oct 11 @ 6:50 am
  • Bobby

    No mention about beach driving killing endangered sea turtles. I guess Federal laws and protection doesn’t apply.

    Wednesday, Oct 11 @ 8:01 am
  • Steven

    Seems that Just Another Mike has not visited the area in decades to think the area has not been desecrated

    Wednesday, Oct 11 @ 10:26 am