Cape Hatteras National Seashore Struggling To Afford Lifeguards This Summer

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Surfers, and other Cape Hatteras beach goers, could be without lifeguards this summer./Kurt Repanshek.

Riptides along Cape Hatteras National Seashore are some of the most dangerous along the East Coast, but budget woes have left the question of whether there will be lifeguards on the seashore this summer up in the air.

In past summers, the Seashore has hired lifeguards to patrol beaches at Ocracoke, Buxton, and Coquina.

“We’ve lost about a million dollars from 2010 to '13 when we were going through this process," said Cape Hatteras Superintendent Barclay Trimble. "A majority of that goes to seasonal hiring. On top of lifeguards, we’ve got the seasonal (law enforcement) positions, maintenance positions, the interpreters.”

With the summer travel season quickly approach, Seashore officials are seeing if they can afford to hire enough lifeguards to provide limited coverage, possibly seven days a week, the superintendent said Friday during a phone call.

In the past it has cost about $200,000 for summer lifeguards, and Superintendent Trimble has an amount somewhere south of that for this year. There also has been talk that communities along the Seashore can come up with funds to help supplement what the Park Service can manage to afford.

"I’ve had a lot of discussions with the community of Ocracoke," the superintendent said. "They haven’t come up with a guaranteed payment. Dare County is still discussing it.”

If the Seashore can manage to hire lifeguards, they likely would be moved around during the week.

"We have been taking visitation counts while we had lifeguards, so we know where the lesser-used days are," said Superintendent Trimble.

For example, he said the Ocracoke beaches aren't heavily used on weekends because vactioners are either leaving the Seashore or checking in, while Coquina Beach north of the Bodie Island Visitor Center draws heavily on weekends.

While the funding situation has been bleak, Superintendent Trimble has not reached out to the Park Service's Washington headquarters for help.

“We’re no different than any other park. Every park is making very tough decisions," he pointed out. "Coming out of sequestration, the budgets are a little better than last year...but everybody is making very tough decisions. I’m not trying to put this above every other park that is making very tough decisions.”