Busy Memorial Day weekend launches the season

Summer was officially ushered in over Memorial Day weekend with crowded beaches, busy restaurants and plenty of traffic, all of which reinforced two key messages.

      One is that there is general optimism about the economic strength of the fledgling tourism season in Dare County. The other is that, after the holiday weekend brought rough ocean conditions and dozens of lifeguard rescues, beachgoers need to be aware of conditions and use caution.

      Outer Banks Visitors Bureau Executive Director Lee Nettles told the Sentinel that initial reports from retail establishments and restaurants have been positive. “We are happy to have the visitors back…I think we’re optimistic that we will have strong summer,” noted Nettles. “All we have to do now is keep storms away, roads and bridges open and sharks far out to sea.”

      If the Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS) is an indicator of how many visitors descended on the Outer Banks over the holiday weekend, National Park Service Outer Banks Group Public Affairs Director Michael Barber reported that more than 2,500 people climbed the Cape Hatteras and Bodie Island lighthouses; 2,800 people visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial; and three out of the four Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS) campgrounds were full.

      Barber also said the new lifeguard stand at the CHNS’s Frisco Beach Access was well-received by visitors. “We are happy to have extra lifeguard coverage this summer,” he said. Other fixed lifeguard stands in the seashore include Coquina Beach, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Ocracoke beach accesses.

      “It’s a big addition,” said Mirek Dabrowski, whose Surf Rescue operation staffs those stands, along with those in Duck and Southern Shores. “Historically, it’s a very densely populated beach…this is something they’ve wanted to do for a while, but funding was an issue.”

      Dabrowski said that his lifeguards in Surf Rescue’s coverage area responded to a total of about five or six water assists each day over the three-day weekend that brought with it a considerable swell and rip currents.

      Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue Director David Elder said his staff responded to a total of 27 calls over the holiday weekend, 17 of those being rip current rescues.

      “It was a really busy weekend and the beach population was really high, with a little swell event over the weekend,” said Nags Head Ocean Rescue Director Chad Motz. His squad consists of 26 lifeguards who man 15 fixed stands up and down the beach, three pick-up trucks and eight all-terrain vehicles. “Monday was busiest day of rescue activity,” he said.

      He encourages beachgoers to always swim near a lifeguard when possible, not to swim alone and to call 911 if they spot someone in trouble.

      Elder also urged those heading to the beach to heed advisories – whether they are heat or water-related. “Communicate with your lifeguard and know and stay within your limits, not your group’s limits,” he stated.

      The Memorial Day weekend also marked the first water-related fatality on the Outer Banks this season. John Albright of Blacksburg, Va. died of a cardiac event on May 25 after witnesses reported that he and his wife appeared to be caught in a rip current near 2nd Street in Southern Shores. Albright was unresponsive when he was pulled from the surf.

      “Rip current hazards are the vast majority of the rescues we have all summer long, along with spinal cord injuries,” said Kitty Hawk Ocean Rescue Director Cole Yeatts.

      Of the Memorial Day weekend, Yeatts said, “We did have rescues related to rip currents, they were quickly recognized, and no one was transported [via Emergency Medical Services]. The guards did a phenomenal job.”

      Yeatts urged visitors to be beach smart and understand rip currents and what to do if they find themselves in one. “[Beachgoers] should know their ability in the open water and understand it is not like swimming in a pool.” Noting that each summer brings with it a lot of spinal cord injuries, he also stressed the need to protect your neck: “Always go feet first, you should not turn your back on waves and don’t body surf the shore break.”

      Ocean rescue officials also encouraged beachgoers to join Dare County’s Emergency Alert System to receive alerts related to weather and beach conditions on their cell phone. To join, text “Join OBXBEACHCONDITIONS” to 30890.


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