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This Outer Banks town has a public beach - but will arrest you for walking to it

The quaint Outer Banks town of Duck issued a stark warning this week to anyone who dares walk to its public beaches.: You could end up charged with trespassing.

One man found that out the hard way May 29, when he was arrested and charged with second-degree trespassing for walking to the town’s beach on a seemingly public road that turned out to be HOA property.

And that’s the problem: Duck has plenty of public beaches, but all the access points are private property and “not available to the general public.”

“The Town of Duck does not restrict an individual’s use of the public beach, but it does not own or maintain any beach access locations in the town,” said a town press release issued this week. “Because the accesses are privately owned and maintained, the Town cannot grant permission for their use and unauthorized use could be deemed trespass as it would with any other private property.“

Robert Hovey of Kill Devil Hills was the first arrest under this trespassing crackdown, the town says. He was charged at 8 a.m. Wednesday with trying to reach the beach at the end of Seabreeze Drive, which is owned by the Sand Dollars Shores HOA.

It was apparently not the first time Hovey took that route, and “the charge and arrest were the culmination of a long-standing dispute between Mr. Hovey and the property owners of the Sand Dollar Shores subdivision,” the town says.

Hovey, who manages the Duck Village Outfitters, says on Facebook that he intends to hire “a good attorney” to fight the charge. He also posted a two-minute video of the confrontation that got him arrested, including footage of a homeowner who curses at Hovey while dialing police on his cellphone.

“Yesterday I believe I became the first person in the history of Duck to get arrested for going to the beach, Hovey said on Facebook.

News of the arrest ignited a hail of criticism on the town’s Facebook page, including accusations that town leaders are catering to well-to-do summer cottage renters at the expense of locals. The town, on the northern end of the Outer Banks, has a full-time population of only about 400 people.

“You’ve awoken and fired up an entire global community of surfers, local business owners, ocean activity groups, national associations, and pissed A LOT of locals off,” said Shane Thomas on the town’s Facebook page. “I am sure this is going to not only blemish your town before the season really starts, but impact your bottom line as well as people boycott your town (altogether).”

“The beach is public, yet the access to it isn’t... How much common sense is in this?” wrote Nena Woo. “I will not be coming to Duck! I will spread the word about how ignorant and unwelcoming the people are there! No Thank you!”

“So we spent millions of dollars to replenish the beach that we have no access to?” posted Cory Hemilright. “Town needs at least 1 public beach access area.”

A few among the 400-plus commenters supported the arrest, however.

“The walkways are NOT public,” wrote Cindy McLaughlin on Facebook. “They are paid for and maintained by the individual property owners and HOAs. The southern beaches in Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, etc., have public beach access. Go there! You won’t be hassled.”

“We purposely vacation in Duck because although the beaches are public, there isn’t public access,” Sabrina Henneman posted on Facebook. “It’s all residential neighborhoods and that’s what makes Duck special. The beaches are not crazy crowded, they are cleaner when thousands of people aren’t leaving their trash.”

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