Federal budget cuts to leave Hatteras beaches unguarded
Posted April 10, 2014
Ocracoke, N.C. — Because of budget constraints, the National Park Service won't staff the Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches with lifeguards this summer. The move has angered Outer Banks residents and left tourists wondering if they should swim there.
"We need the lifeguards here for this island," said Dylan Bennick, who worked for the Park Service last summer as a lifeguard. "Lifeguards not only create feeling of being safe, but they do provide an environment where people can go to the beach and be safe."
Fifteen lifeguards watched over three beaches in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore – Ocracoke, Buxton and Coquina – last year and were credited with 49 rescues, according to Park Service data. There wasn't a single drowning within the guarded beach areas, which saw more than 31,800 visitors between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
"We got a call on the radio that a dad and his son were caught in a rip current," Bennick said of a July 3 rescue. "When we got to them, it was just their noses above the water."
Park Service spokeswoman Cyndy Holda said four to six people drown on the Outer Banks outside of guarded areas in an average summer.
A lifelong surfer, Bennick said rip currents are the greatest threat along the North Carolina coast. That's why, he said, his value as a lifeguard wasn't in the water as much as it was on the beach.
"Telling people what the scenario is and how to deal with it," he said. "If you don't know what to do, it can kill you."
The Park Service will save $75,000 by cutting the lifeguard staff, Holda said. She said the agency is looking at possibly hiring contract lifeguards, but any decision is weeks away.
Sundae Horn, who has lived on Ocracoke Island for 22 years, said lifeguards are part of the lifeblood of the area and its tourism-based economy.
"As a family beach destination, people want to come here, and they might choose to go somewhere else if they don't have lifeguards," Horn said. "If we have a year without lifeguards, there will be more tragedies."
Krystian and Ed Hall, who recently visited Ocracoke from Ohio, said tourists will have to calculate the risk of swimming on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore without lifeguards versus finding a guarded beach to spread their blankets and frolic in the water.
"It's beautiful and, I have to say, a little frightening," Krystian Hall said of the Outer Banks waters.
"Sometimes, it's just better to pay out the cost than deal with the problems it causes," Ed Hall said.