Beach Access Guidance

There has been much confusion on what is permissible for beach accesses following our Hurricane Florence dune restoration project. In summary, temporary and easily-removable solutions such as post-and-rope walkways will be permitted by the N.C. Division of Coastal Management until stable and natural vegetation grows on the new “berm” from this restoration project. Once the Division determines the amount of vegetation meets the definition of a dune, they will permit permanent structures such as stairs.

The following guidance from the Division of Coastal Management goes into these rules in more detail:

The Division supports the Town in protecting its investments in promoting the successful stabilization of the restored beach and dune areas. For that reason, DCM will not require a CAMA permit for the post-and-rope pathways across the berm, provided they can meet all of the following design guidelines:

The accessway must not be greater than 6 feet in width unless there is a demonstrated need for a greater width such as compliance with the American with Disabilities Act or other public benefit.

  • Posts must not be greater than 4x4 inches, should extend no deeper than 5 feet below the grade, and should maintain spacing of at least 7 feet between each post.

  • Posts should be installed by hand without the use of heavy equipment.

  • Only rope railings – no other railing, handrail, or intermediate guardrail systems will be allowed.

  • Rope railings should be at least 3 feet above ground in order to avoid sea turtle interactions.

  • Paths should be shore-perpendicular, should not extend more than 6 feet waterward of the seaward toe of the berm slope, and should not obstruct recreation, access, or emergency vehicles.

The Division is not allowing any structures, such as structural access stairs or ramps to be placed on the seaward slope of the newly constructed “berm” as it does not meet the definition of a “frontal” or “primary” dune. Once dune planting has been accomplished or if there should be naturally occurring vegetation, DCM will closely monitor the success of the plantings or vegetation to determine when a new dune or berm qualifies as either a “frontal dune” or “primary dune” for the purposes of authorizing structural accessways.

We hope this approach will help to minimize impacts to dunes and promote vegetation growth while helping people navigate steeper sections of the constructed berm. We also hope that this will provide a temporary solution until we can authorize structural accessways once dune vegetation has successfully established and stabilized.

For more information, the NC Coastal Resources Commission’s (CRC) rules governing Structural Accessways are found at 15A NCAC 07H.0308(c). In subpart (1), the Rule states that “structural accessways shall be permitted across primary or frontal dunes so long as they are designed and constructed in a manner that entails negligible alteration of the primary or frontal dune.” Subpart (5) of this Rule further states that “Structural accessways may be constructed no more than six feet seaward of the waterward toe of the frontal or primary dune, provided they do not interfere with public trust rights and emergency access along the beach.” These rules, in combination with the definitions of frontal and primary dunes in .0305(a), do not allow for the extension of structural accessways over newly constructed dune and/or berm areas, until those areas are determined by DCM to have “stable and natural vegetation present.”


Above is an example of a picture of where a constructed berm meets the natural frontal dune. It is clear in this photo of where the unvegetated berm starts and the naturally vegetated frontal dune ends. In this case, the structural stairs were existing and was allowed to remain without adding new or replaced stairs down the slope. Otherwise, the stairs should stop at where the erosion escarpment line on the naturally vegetated fontal dune meets the unvegetated berm. At that point, post and rope would be acceptable according to the above guidelines.

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