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In Duck, Public Beaches, But No Public Access

The town of Duck on North Carolina's Outer Banks.
US Army Corps Of Engineers
The town of Duck on North Carolina's Outer Banks.
The town of Duck on North Carolina's Outer Banks.
Credit US Army Corps Of Engineers
The town of Duck on North Carolina's Outer Banks.

In the town of Duck on the Outer Banks, all beaches are open to the public. But the walkways to the beaches are not, as all access points are private property controlled and maintained by subdivisions and home owner's associations. Town officials say that’s not by design. Duck incorporated in 2003, after all the oceanfront properties had been developed.

Officials say there’s just not much room left to build a public beach access point.

“It’s recognized that a traditional public access location would be something that could enhance the town,” said Town Manager Chris Layton. “The issue is that retrofitting that in is easier said than done.”

Last week, local businessman Robert Hovey filmed a confrontation with two property owners as he tried to access the beach. He was arrested and charged with trespassing. Hovey wrote on social media he is trying to fight for public access to beaches that are maintained by public dollars.

Layton said he has heard from some in the three subdivisions and a handful of houses in town that don’t have private access to the ocean, but it’s rarely a contentious issue.

“Right now, they kind of use non-official means to get to the beach,” he said. “Even in those cases, we don’t get many comments on their lack of deeded access.”

The town of Duck does not monitor beach access points. Layton said the town has no authority to grant access to private walkways and few options for developing a public access.

If town residents want to move forward with a public walkway, the council could consider working out a compromise with a private owner, purchasing a beachfront lot, using eminent domain to seize land, or negotiating with the Army Corps of Engineers to gain access to a strip of land currently being used as a field research facility.

None of those would likely be easy or inexpensive, Layton said.

“We are a young town, and we have focused on items that haven’t had the same complications that beach access currently has.”

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Elizabeth Friend