By Connie Leinbach
After months of wrangling, Ocracoke has lifeguards at its public beach seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Early in May, Hyde County commissioners agreed to pay out of Ocracoke Occupancy Tax monies the estimated $10,000 for weekend lifeguard coverage while the National Park Service will pay for five days of coverage provided by Surf Rescue, a private company in Duck.
Last November, Barclay Trimble, superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS) of the National Park Service, had announced that due to budget constraints, he was eliminating lifeguard service on the three public beaches in the CHNS, a service the Park Service has supplied since the 1950s.
Ocracoke began to rally against this significant cutback in February (after having to successfully fight off a third attempt to toll the Hatteras ferry.) Protest efforts by many residents and concerned friends of the island–who signed an online petition at change.org, wrote letters, called and emailed the superintendent had an impact. With additional help from U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, Trimble announced that his budget could afford lifeguards for five days a week. If the other two communities at Coquina and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse beaches wanted lifeguards for the other two days, they would have to partner with the NPS at the tune of $10,000 each.
In mid-May, Trimble announced that the summer lifeguard program would resume the full seven days per week this summer at the other beaches and on Ocracoke.
“The National Park Service is pleased to be able to provide, along with local entities, this valuable service for the safety of our Seashore visitors,” Trimble said in a press release.
Also in mid-May, Don Hutson, chief lifeguard at the Ocracoke beach last year, was among several NPS employees honored for bravery in Washington, D.C., at the Department of the Interior’s 69th Honor Awards Convocation. According to a NPS press release, Hutson helped rescue five swimmers caught in rip currents and personally towed four of the swimmers to shore through 100-plus yards of strong current and surf.
Dylan Bennink, who was a lifeguard on Ocracoke last year and is the island’s dock master at Anchorage Marina this year, confirmed that he also saved a father and a son last year from a rip current.