A couple weekends ago my husband came to Pine Knoll Shores for the weekend and we stayed at the Trinity Center. After the State of North Carolina, the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern North Carolina is the second largest land owner in PKS. The Trinity Center is a camp and conference center and when extra rooms are available you can rent them on an individual basis. Their property spans from the sound to the ocean, with just over a quarter mile of beach front.
Naturally we went down for a swim. The flags were yellow. The surf was choppy, but we both know how to swim and didn’t plan to go out very far. The water was shallow for a long way out so we moved down to where it was deeper and felt the pull of the tide. We were close enough in and did not get caught, but I was out of breath after a short swim towards the shore. Chris was right behind me and we stayed out of that area for the rest of our swim.
The next day we read about the boy who drowned and the other who was missing, on the western end of Bogue Banks, in Emerald Isle, caught in a rip tide. The flags went to red in PKS. In my first conversation with PKS Chief of Police, Ryan Thompson, we discussed beach rescues – even though the Fire Department is the first responder. As far as media coverage goes, Emerald Isle drew the short straw this year. As Chief Thompson explained, no one wants to be first because the media will make it well known that the ocean in your town is a risky place to swim. Of course, the truth is the ocean is risky up and down the eastern seaboard, but it is better not to have your specific town name associated with the risk – better for the community and better for the economy.
This year, that first news story extended to twelve days of coverage, with two more drownings and at least fifteen times as many rescues, since then. The flags in PKS went to black this past Monday and the National Weather Service issued a Hazardous Beach Statement for most of the NC coast line. The black flag is as close as PKS can go in terms of telling people to stay out of the water – beach front municipalities have no jurisdiction to forbid people from entering the ocean. Pine Knoll Shores does not employ lifeguards. Instead their efforts focus on awareness. All the beach accesses include rip tide postings and multiple emails to the town list serve have included strategies for safety in the water, such as swimming in the sound and bringing a boogie board. Twenty-five can cozies with rip tide diagrams on them have been ordered for distribution to the visitors who park in the PKS paid lots over July 4th Weekend.
The weather is calmer now, oppressive actually, with a white sky and not much breeze. The flags are back to red. Another weather effect PKS experiences is when the wind is right, artillery practice at Camp Lejeune can be heard in PKS. Yesterday, the conditions were right and explosions were frequent, until late in the evening. Some are strong enough to rattle the walls. Fingers crossed that the remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy don’t bring too much trouble our way. PKS, and all of Bogue Banks, is an odd combination of a dense population, in a wild location.