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Who owns the beaches in North Carolina?

Judy Royal

The answer: You do! Congratulations. You’re a property owner. Well, sort of.

In North Carolina, the “dry sand” beach, the area between the high tide line and the dunes, is public trust land, which means “the public has the right to use the full width and breadth of the state’s beaches seaward of the dune line,” said Michele Walker, public information officer for the N.C. Division of Coastal Management. The “wet sand” area, from the low tide line to the high tide line, is under state ownership.

In a nutshell? While some states, such as New Jersey and California, can keep you off parts of the beach or charge you to be there, there are no private beaches in North Carolina. “There are some beaches that have more public access than others, although DCM has a grant program that helps fund new public beach accesses every year,” Walker said.

She added: “The idea of the public’s right to the beach was upheld in 2003, and again on appeal in 2005, in the case of Giampa, et. al. v. Currituck County. In that case, the oceanfront property owners sought exclusive use to the dry-sand beach in front of their homes, and asked the court to restrict the use of dune crossovers in the Whalehead subdivision to property owners and their guests. A judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2003, and the N.C. Court of Appeals affirmed that dismissal in 2005.  Here is a page on our website that gives a bit more detail: www.nccoastalmanagement.net/Facts/publicuse.htm

Local governments, however, have the right to manage and regulate activities that occur on beaches that fall within their jurisdiction, such as beach driving, camping and dog walking. For example, the Town of Carolina Beach makes the rules for Freeman Park, located on the north end of Pleasure Island.

User-contributed question by:
Curtis Hutto

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3 Responses to “ Who owns the beaches in North Carolina?”

  1. On June 3, 2009 at 3:26 pm Peggy Pavell wrote:

    Do the residents at Wrightsville Beach know this?

  2. On April 12, 2012 at 10:31 pm Al Toman wrote:

    Emerald Isle has started a parking fee program in 2011 for weekends, meaning, they are controlling who has access to the beach. This pretty much proclaims that they have exclusive ownership of the beach over all others. If not, how does one access the People’s beach?

  3. On June 27, 2013 at 4:56 pm Randall wrote:

    Well that is interesting. According to the article “Who owns the beach”, (good question btw) the state owns the entire beach on topsail island. Here at surf city high tide reaches all the way to the dunes most days.

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