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Federal budget cuts to leave Hatteras beaches unguarded

Posted April 10, 2014

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— 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.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • Bryan Ayers Apr 11, 2014
    user avatar

    Here's a concept: Why not have lifeguards band together & give time back to community service & provide a few hours daily for free?

  • GK N.Ral Apr 11, 2014

    ATTN : Hatteras beaches, if you want lifeguards, you pay for them because as you say you will benefit from having them.

  • Jeff DeWitt Apr 11, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Indeed, this IS the most disrespectful administration in history.

  • Big Mike Apr 11, 2014

    Charge a buck for crossing over one of the two bridges that lead onto the Outer Banks..should pay for life guards in a week or so..once the money is enough to have life guards...crossing free again..

  • Olenc Native Apr 11, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    The level of absolute disrespect is astounding.

  • LetsBeFair Apr 11, 2014

    someone will die, things will get fixed.

  • ncprr1 Apr 11, 2014

    View quoted thread

    The federal government stole this property from NC. If they are willing to give it back then I am sure the the state will cover the costs.

  • Scott Mace Apr 11, 2014
    user avatar

    "If they want lifeguards, the local governments should pay for it. This should not be a federal government issue."

    Except that it IS a Federal government park, and we all know how the Federal government can't stand the states doing things that the feds won't.

    If they won't maintain/staff it, then deed it back to NC where it belongs.

  • raleighboy524 Apr 11, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Exactly why are they "lavish" compared with past presidents' vacations? Don't say it's because they go to Hawaii. That's where Obama is from and you can't fault anyone from going to their home for a vacation. But, wait, how could I overlook the fact that Obama is really from Kenya -- right?

  • ncprr1 Apr 11, 2014

    Money is not the issue. The goal of this administration is and has always been to stick it to as many people as possible. Moochelle spends $75K on lunch.