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Hammocks Beach State Park Expansion Announced

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R. Evans, NC State Park System
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Hammocks Beach State Park in Swansboro recently announced  it's acquiring 300 acres to help make it a year round attraction.  We explore the history of Hammocks Beach, a popular recreation area for African Americans before desegregation. 

For a half a century, Hammocks Beach State Park near Swansboro has been popular among beach goers who want to experience eastern North Carolina’s pristine coastline. Now, plans to expand the state park by nearly 300 acres would make it a year round destination.  Public Information Officer for the North Carolina State Parks System Charlie Peek says they’ve been trying to acquire the property for 20 years.

“Since it’s adjacent to our mainland section at Hammocks Beach, we’ve always been interested in it.  We’ve been talking back and forth with family and others that have interest in the property for many, many years.  So it’s finally come to fruition that we gotten a settlement that everybody’s happy with.”

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Credit Jason Brown, NC State Park Service
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Today, the park encompasses nearly 1,200 acres on the mainland, Bear Island, Huggins Island and Jones Island.  The land where Hammocks Beach State Park is once belonged to New York neurosurgeon Dr. William Sharpe.  After a hunting trip to Bear Island, he sought to acquire the land.  Sharpe intended to leave his 4,000 acre property to African American John Hurst, his longtime hunting guide and friend.  Eventually, Dr. Sharpe gave full responsibility to Hurst, as property manager for the land. In 1950, Hurst persuaded him to donate the land to the North Carolina Teachers Association, an organization of African American teachers to use as a retreat. Due to limited funds and the area’s remoteness, plans to develop the property never reached fruition.

"That’s when the idea of a state park, and originally, a state park for African Americans was envisioned.  And that’s how Hammocks Beach State Park opened, it was in the days of segregation.”

11 years after the land was donated to the North Carolina Teachers Association, Hammocks Beach opened as a park for minorities with three acres on the mainland and 900 on Bear Island.   Then in 1964, the Civil Rights Act passed, mandating the end of racially based segregation and Hammocks Beach was opened to everyone. 

The State Park has grown over the years, with the addition of Huggins Inland in the late 90s and Jones Island in 2005.  Park Superintendent Paul Donnelly says more than 178,000 visitors went to Hammocks Beach last year.

“It’s a beautiful place to come and spend the day out on the beach, fishing, swimming, looking for seashells, just enjoying the outdoors.  They have four miles of unspoiled beach to walk up and down.”

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Credit Jason Brown, NC State Park Service
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Bear Island, the primary feature of the park, has remained virtually unchanged over the decades, except for bathhouse facilities and a concession stand which is open form Memorial Day to Labor Day.  While Hammocks Beach is popular during the summer months, Peek says they don’t have a lot of visitors during the winter. 

“Our ferry system doesn’t run to Bear Island during the cold weather months.  So the people that show up there, we have a great visitors center, but not a whole lot of other things for them to do.  So this is going to give a more year round experience of the park.”

With 30 acres of property on the mainland and the acquisition of 300 additional acres, Peek says they will be able to offer visitors a more traditional state park experience, with picnic grounds and walking trails. 

“The first thing we do is create a management plan just to decide exactly what kind of facilities will be proper for it, what kind of facilities will be needed, what kind of recreational facilities do people want and what do the most need. I’m sure everyone has some great ideas on what they might like to see on that.”

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Google Maps
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Part of the management plan will be to decide what to do with the dilapidated remains of a 4-H and Future Farmers of America summer camps currently at the site.

“Some of them probably will be repurposed for a new type of camp.  Some of them may have to be demolished, it may just be beyond repair. And so that will be part of our process, we’ll take a detailed inventory of what exists there and what might have to be replaced or done away with all together.”

The 300 acre property, which includes the heavily wooded section to the right as you enter the park on Hammock Beach Road, is being purchased from the heirs of John Hurst for $10 million.  The state’s portion, almost $7 million, is provided through the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and bonds approved by the General Assembly last year.  The State Chapter of the Conservation Fund has committed $3 million to purchase the remainder of the property. 

Hammocks Beach State Park is open daily from 8 to 5.  The bathhouse on Bear Island is open for the season, as well as restrooms and showers.  Ferry service to Bear Island is $5 for adults and $3 for seniors and children ages 6-12.  For more information on Hammocks Beach State Park, visit http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/habe/main.php.

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Credit R. Evans, NC State Park System
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Jared Brumbaugh is the Assistant General Manager for Public Radio East. An Eastern North Carolina native, Jared began his professional public radio career at Public Radio East while he was a student at Craven Community College earning his degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. During his 15+ years at Public Radio East, he has served as an award-winning journalist, producer, and on-air host. When not at the station, Jared enjoys hiking, traveling, and honing his culinary skills.