North Carolina

Despite 'high risk' warning and drownings, Cape Hatteras sees record number of tourists

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is warning people to stay on the beaches while the rip currents are bad off the National Park.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore is warning people to stay on the beaches while the rip currents are bad off the National Park.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is seeing record setting crowds, despite all-too frequent warnings this summer that rip tides are making its waters dangerous.

The park had 389,722 visitors last month, its busiest June since the record setting attendance of 2002, the biggest year ever for the park.

Visits so far this year are up 12 percent over 2017, to 1,130,473 people, officials said.

By contrast, the park saw only 886,033 visitors during the same period in 2014, officials said in a press release.

The park is among the 50 most visited national parks in the nation, ranking just a few thousand visitors below Mount Rushmore. The National Park Service is basing its estimates on the number of vehicles driving through Cape Hatteras in both directions.

The rising numbers come at a time when the Carolina coast is plagued by rip currents which were credited with three drownings inside the park last month.

Four people have died in the park this year, including a June 28 incident in which one 48-year-old man drowned near Avon and six other swimmers had to be rescued from the current, according to the park.

A fifth drowning occurred outside the park limits this past Saturday, involving a 62-year-old man who was swimming near the Outer Banks community of Kill Devil Hills.

In yet another incident, a 4-year-old boy who was hit by a "rogue wave" in April while walking with his mother, and dragged out to sea. His body was found 5 days later, 34 miles up the coast.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore posted "high risk" warnings Sunday and Monday about its waters, including video of waves crashing against the beaches: "We strongly recommend staying out of the water until conditions improve. The very rough surf will impact rescue attempts."

The park had seven swimming-related fatalities in 2017 and eight in 2016, officials said.

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North Carolina is home to three of the nation's most popular national parks, with the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park both ranked in the top 10 for visitation.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore ranked No. 42 out of 377 national park sites last year, according to the National Park Service.

An impromptu memorial of shells has been set up at the Lillian Street in Kitty Hawk for the 4-year-old lost in the surf on April 25, 2018. People are encouraged to write messages to the family on the shells with their thoughts and prayers.

Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs
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